The One Thing You Never Noticed In The Prestige

Were you watching closely?

The Prestige
Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan's 2006 masterwork The Prestige is perhaps the best on-screen representation of just how much the man himself loves to play with an audience. The story of Christian Bale's Alfred Borden forever outwitting Hugh Jackman's Robert Angier is one for the ages, and the pair's love of magic tricks and misdirection plays into the very way the story is told.

Going from friendly competition to a vicious series of violent acts sparked by Angier losing his love in a trick where Borden was supposed to tie a very specific knot to allow her escape, The Prestige is every bit as much about a love of magic and not knowing, as it is the people behind it.

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By the time the credits roll you'll have been taken on a substantial, labyrinthine plot involving double crosses, the odd dash of real magic being explained away as science, and one hell of a takeaway message saying it's all worth it, "for the looks on [our] faces".

But, as Michael Caine notes when explaining the vanishing bird cage trick to Borden's daughter, Jess, the question, "Are you watching closely?" is just as much an instruction to the audience, as her. If we're taking this symbolically, Nolan is saying that we are the bright-eyed and inquisitive individual, forever receptive to what's going on, but to really understand everything that happens, we'll need to pay very close attention - even when the focus is elsewhere, despite being right in front of us.

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the prestige michael caine
Warner Bros.

Case in point? The first time David Bowie's Nikola Tesla shows off his machine in the Royal Albert Hall. We're very much blown away by the bolts of electricity arcing across the room - so much so that it distracts us from the fact there's someone in the audience we should be keeping an eye on.

It's not Borden or Angier, though other instances in the film have them taking potshots at one another whenever the opportunity presents itself. Instead, Christopher Nolan decided to include another clever trick hinting at the real-world war of technology and invention between Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla.

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Now, Edison is mentioned a few times in the movie to maintain context and historical accuracy, but in the scene where Tesla's newest machine is being shown off, make a note to memorise the bearded man in the audience (the guy repeatedly heckling Andy Serkis' character Alley, as he attempts to deliver the demonstration).

The Prestige Edison Man 2
Warner Bros.

Shot as just another extra inserted to hammer home the security risks of Tesla's equipment for the sake of the scene, this same man appears later in Colorado Springs, when Angier returns to the hotel to check out.

The Prestige Edison Man
Warner Bros.

He's only on screen for a second, but gets referenced by the person at the desk as one of Thomas Edison's men. It's a brilliantly subtle inclusion, retroactively confirming the man's earlier actions as reflecting the real-world rivalry between Tesla and Edison. It shows that even though the movie was focused very much on the burgeoning war between Borden and Angier, there was another, wider conflict still at hand.

Both sets of rivals were present at each others' shows, studying the competition and interfering in their presentations. Though, as with every good magic trick, only the most perceptive of us picked up on it, first time through.

So, were you watching closely?

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Gaming Editor
Gaming Editor

Gaming Editor at WhatCulture. Wields shovels, rests at bonfires, fights evil clones, brews decoctions. Will have your lunch on Rocket League.