What Does The Ending Of The Prestige Really Mean?
“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking.”
“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled…” – Cutter
Of late it’s sometimes easy to forget that Christopher Nolan, the genius behind the Dark Knight trilogy adrift amidst a sea of awards and accolades as a result of his labours with the franchise depicting his vision of the caped crusader, previously made a quartet of insidiously intelligent films: Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, and Inception. All of these films are amazing in their own way and worthy of separate analysis, showcasing Nolan’s developing directorial talent throughout the first decade of the new millennium. Today I’d like to discuss The Prestige, Nolan’s dark and bleak visually spectacular mind-twister of a movie, and my own personal favourite from this quartet of films, which was adapted from British writer Christopher Priest’s 1995 prize winning epistolary novel of the same name. Over the past few years I’ve discussed my interpretation of the events of the movie and its key overarching themes with so many people that I decided it was time to put my thoughts into an article.
The ingenuity of the movie arises from Nolan’s handling of the non-linear exposition of the film which, at its core, revolves around two talented magicians in the early 1900s who become engaged in a lifelong game of progressively daring one-upmanship. The movie’s narrator- Michael Caine’s Harry Cutter- is an ingénieur; he conceives then concocts the mechanisms which facilitate the magicians’ dazzling of their audiences. Cutter explains to the viewer the three key elements of any magic trick… every trick, he tells us, has three crucial stages:
The Pledge – the preliminary object or action;
The Turn– the action or the deed that misdirects and distracts the audience from the true purpose of the trick;
The Prestige- the final reveal which leaves them spellbound.
If you’re reading this article then you probably know the story which, in a nutshell to refresh you, charts via a series of flash-backs and flash-forwards the events surrounding the sentencing of Christian Bale’s Alfred Borden for the murder of Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier. The murder seemingly occurred as the culmination of a series of escalating trade-offs between the two magicians which had their origins in the death of Angier’s wife Julia who, in tragic symmetry to the death of Angier, drowned performing a water cell act.
Next we will discuss the ending, and then seek to understand how it is representative of the key themes embodied within the movie’s narrative…