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October 22, 2006 11:10 AM   Subscribe

"The Prestige" spoiler question, do not read if you have any intention of seeing the movie.

The wife and I just saw the film "The Prestige" last night and have been unable to agree on what happens with "the machine". For those familiar with the movie and/or the book (I haven't read it), I'm wondering whether, when the machine is activated, is the original item transported and a copy remains in the machine, or is the transported item the copy, or does it even matter?

From an existential standpoint, it would have definitely mattered to me, although I thought the film muddied things a bit, contrasting Angier's behavior after his first experience in the machine, and the later public performances of "The Transported Man".
posted by hwestiii to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think that from what Hugh Jackman's character said at the end, the machine isn't always accurate. Sometimes the original is transported, sometimes it remains in the machine. The film is based on a book, by the way, by Christopher Priest, so you may confirm your answers there.
posted by hooray at 11:16 AM on October 22, 2006


Agreed, it can be either way. I think it draws a parallel to the scene where the performer can't really enjoy the applause because his double is on stage, while he is under the stage. The same thing happens with the Tesla machine. Who is enjoying the success? The real performer or the duplicate?
posted by The Deej at 11:40 AM on October 22, 2006


If the machine is creating an exact duplicate, I'm not sure there's any real way of determining whether the duplicate is created in the machine or around the block. The surviving Angier certainly wouldn't know, and there's nothing in the film that would allow us to know.

Also: What a great film. Probably my favorite so far this year.
posted by joshjs at 11:53 AM on October 22, 2006


If both the "original" and "copy" are the same person, neither Angier could tell whether he had remained in the machine or been teleported away.

I believe his first experience in the machine, where he immediately kills the "copy", is more a product of ambition and paranoia. This directly parallels both Borden and Cutter's remarks about never trusting your duplicate, since their secret affords them the power to undermine and destroy you.
posted by Danelope at 11:54 AM on October 22, 2006


If I may piggyback on this question, why is that Angier has an English accent in the final scene with Borden?
posted by Neiltupper at 11:59 AM on October 22, 2006


Angier was a proper British Lord with an avid interest in performing magic, a pursuit apparently unbecoming of nobility. Near the beginning of the film, Angier's wife says that he changed his name to protect his and his family's reputation from embarassment.

Note that there was never any indication throughout the film where Angier got the money to pay for Tesla's machine. It was clearly being funneled from his Lordly coffers.

Once Angier had proceeded in mastering his craft, and his hundred-show run complete, with Borden was sentenced to death, he had "won": he had performed a trick to which no one would ever possess the secret. There was no longer any reason to maintain the false pretense.

This also parallel's the earlier speech (began when discussing the crippled Asian magician) about living the performance every day of your life. He pretended to be an American throughout his career, such that no one would suspect the truth.
posted by Danelope at 12:09 PM on October 22, 2006


In the book the machine appears to create a copy and kill the double at the same instant. Eventually the "prestige" is understood to be the corpse that is created by every performance.
posted by cyphill at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2006


I haven't seen the movie but I've read the book. The machine creates a 'prestige' everytime that it is used. At the end of the book, you get to see the cave/crypt with storage of all of the perfectly preserved copies laying out in bunkbeds/shelves with index cards of the date/time of the performance.

Too bad this is not getting rave reviews. I'm a bit scared to see what they did to the movie, because I loved the book and it *could* have transferred well to the big screen. Although, the book is told through several devices (diaries, secondhand-accounts) with unfaithful narrators, so I don't know how they would have pulled this off in the movie.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:25 PM on October 22, 2006


I didn't even know it was based on a book...I guess I'll go pick it up sometime. In the movie I understood the clones as exact copies, they were both aware of what had just occured. My question from the movie is Did Michael Caines character know all along that batman had a twin?
posted by spacesbetween at 12:29 PM on October 22, 2006


Quite well, actually.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:30 PM on October 22, 2006


I quite liked the film but figured out the "twist" and significance of the title relatively early--though, oddly, this didn't take away from my admiration for the film.

I was annoyed, however, at Sarah's "I know what you are..." speech(es). Though this is a common device in storytelling, in hindsight (with the knowledge of the "what you are" being "a TWIN!") it simply comes across as a device that pulls you out of the story. It was a silly thing to do, especially when the "truth" was revealed so wonderfully subtlely by things like removing the wedding ring when making out with the other's wife and the 'not today' stuff.

It's the presentation of things like the slight of hand with the ring that elevates the telling of this story. Was that in the book?

To me, it was an exact copy that was being made so it wouldn't matter which double was being killed. Angier's dying speech spoke more to his character (always worried about being the best) than the machine's process. It was a nice way of contrasting the two men's inner characters--the way the each felt about the death of their "double".
posted by dobbs at 12:39 PM on October 22, 2006


I didn't think the machine made copies: it made more of the exact same thing. "They're all your[ hat]." Danton was a serial suicide.
posted by owhydididoit at 1:02 PM on October 22, 2006


"I think that from what Hugh Jackman's character said at the end, the machine isn't always accurate. Sometimes the original is transported, sometimes it remains in the machine."

I agree with that, that was what I understood from it. He never knew if he would be the one in the box or the prestige
posted by jesirose at 1:03 PM on October 22, 2006


He never knew if he would be the one in the box or the prestige

But that doesn't make any sense. If it did, the only way he'd know was to end up in the box, in which case he wouldn't have uttered the line.

In fact, in order that he can utter the line the only thing that could happen is, every time, the original is teleported and the copy killed or they're exact copies. And which of these is the case is irrelevant, really, as the surviving one is always fully intact (ie, "the real one").

But it's impossible for the line he speaks to be "true" in "reality". It can only be true in his head (he believes that it's possible), which is why I say it speaks to his character rather than the machine.
posted by dobbs at 1:10 PM on October 22, 2006


Saw the Prestige yesterday and enjoyed it -- although it is quite, quite dark and I felt little sympathy for either main character (and/or their doubles!)

I agree that either the 'original' or an 'exact' is transported making the one in the box irrelevant (speaking of which that had to be about the creepiest line in the movie: paraphrase "No one pays any attention to the man in the box"

Off topic, but I'd be interested in comparisons to 'The Illusionist" - which did you like better?
posted by nnk at 1:23 PM on October 22, 2006


In fact, in order that he can utter the line the only thing that could happen is, every time, the original is teleported and the copy killed or they're exact copies. And which of these is the case is irrelevant, really, as the surviving one is always fully intact (ie, "the real one").

This is pretty much the crux of my view. Unless the original is transported, and the copy remains in the machine, he never knows whether he will live or die when the trick is performed. I know these guys were risk takers, but that one is a little too much for me to swallow. Even if the machine produces such exact replicas that they are nominally indistinguishable, they will each have individual experience and perception, and I just can't imagine anyone risking death with only the comfort of knowing that a copy of himself will live on.

That is also why the Angier's first time in the machine confused me. It appeared that the Angier in the machine, the copy if the forgoing is correct, shot the transported Angier, meaning that from then on, the first copy was the "real" Angier.

If that's how it is, I guess that's how it is, but it didn't quite add up for me in the theatre, and I still don't think I can convince my wife.
posted by hwestiii at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2006


Liked the Prestige better than the Illusionist.
posted by greta simone at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2006


Off topic, but I'd be interested in comparisons to 'The Illusionist" - which did you like better?

I also saw "The Illusionist" and liked it a great deal. There is an extraordinary level of thematic similarity between the two films, and although "The Illusionist" is plenty convoluted, I don't think it holds a candle to "The Prestige" in that regard.

They are both fine movies, and I'd definitely recommend "The Illusionist". Edward Norton was terrific. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Paul Giamatti's performance. I was dreading another schlubb-ish character like "American Splendor" or "Sideways", but his Inspector Uhl was quite a bit stronger than either of those.

The one difference I did notice was that London of "The Prestige" had a seemingly authetic edge real decrepitude about it, whereas the Vienna of "The Illusionist" seemed almost Disney-land like in its sparkling cleanliness. I don't know if that's accurate or just a difference in production budgets. It sure looked like Nolan went to a lot of work to make London look that dirty.
posted by hwestiii at 1:41 PM on October 22, 2006


I just got home from seeing The Prestige. I liked it very much, but it left me wondering if it's post-production (editing/sound) was hurried because of a sense that it was competing with The Illusionist in some way. I don't know anything about the timing of release, but these films coming out so closely together seems awkward.
posted by snsranch at 4:56 PM on October 22, 2006


I thought it was more like Schrodinger's cat - I believe there was a line indicating the he was never sure in Angier's dying speech. If I remember correctly, Falon tells him that true magic requires sacrifice and courage- Angier then tells him something along the lines of "courage - what do you think it felt like to climb into that machine every night and not be sure if you were the prestige or the man in the box?".

Funnily enough, me and my better half had the exact same discussion after the movie and my position was, if it's an exact copy, down to the memories up to the moment he stepped into the machine, there'd be no way to tell either way.
posted by concreteforest at 5:06 PM on October 22, 2006


I once asked a similar question, and the thread may interest you.
posted by interrobang at 6:29 PM on October 22, 2006


I thought that maybe one of the twins had left the cats and hats to dazzle Angier- remember how he gave him the word Tesla as the clue?
posted by puddinghead at 8:20 PM on October 22, 2006


puddinghead: no, the whole Tesla thing was just a red herring invented by Borden. But the irony is that Tesla really had invented a device that made the trick possible. Remember that Angier was in Colorado for a considerable time before Tesla a) agreed to see him and b) had the machine ready. No way would Borden have been hanging out there just to stash a bunch of top hats and black cats.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:54 AM on October 23, 2006


I think the point with Angier is that he was trying to ignore what he was doing to himself/his doubles by drowning them every night. Remember what Cutter said to him about the guy who drowned- "it was like going home" vs. "It was agony," and the look on Angier's face after the latter.

That's what that line is referring to. The machine worked perfectly- it made a faraway copy and kept the original- but at the end of his life, Angier wasn't at all sure which was really "him" any more. Was he the succeeding performer, or the guy who's going to die? Every. Single. Night. Really, he's both and he just doesn't want to admit/think about it.

Awesome movie. I have to give big props to the Nolans for improving upon the book to make a better movie plot.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:31 PM on October 23, 2006


I was just coming here to ask a similar question. I saw the whole "twin" thing early on. I mean, REALLY, early on. From the scene where Bale says that the Chinese performer is living his performance and the scene where the wife is all "today you don't mean it." And I was pissed. PISSED that I saw the trick so easily. I really expected more from Nolan.

Just the fact that every shot of Falon is fleeting was a huge giveaway that something was afoot. That's why I was expecting a different payoff in the end (I also suspected that Tesla had set him up with the hats and cats...or even that Gollum was Tesla...guess I read to much into something that wasn't there.)

And what was with the lingering shot of the body in the tank at the end? We KNEW there were bodies in each of those cases (which really seems like a wasteful way to store corpses), was that last shot supposed to be surprising? Am I missing something?
posted by ColdChef at 8:14 PM on October 24, 2006


This is pretty much the crux of my view. Unless the original is transported, and the copy remains in the machine, he never knows whether he will live or die when the trick is performed. I know these guys were risk takers, but that one is a little too much for me to swallow. Even if the machine produces such exact replicas that they are nominally indistinguishable, they will each have individual experience and perception, and I just can't imagine anyone risking death with only the comfort of knowing that a copy of himself will live on.

I thought once the first copy was made, and the plan was hatched, Angier himself never got back into the machine - he always had the previous night's duplicate get in (and drown), which produced a new duplicate who would die the following night. Meanwhile, the "real" Angier waits comfortably in the balcony wings to make his grand appearance. Hence the whole agony at the end about whether or not they suffered.

My only lingering question: Why 100 nights? There has to be some significance to this number. Borden at one point agonizes over the number, and I can't believe such an amazing movie would leave that plot strand lying there ... I'm sure I'm just overlooking something ...
posted by jbickers at 4:51 PM on October 29, 2006


jbickers - If he made the dupe get in every night he would have to depend on the dupe to go through with the trick. It would also mean that before the dupe's dupe dies in the tank there are three Angiers running around, and that at all times there are two Angiers: the original and the latest dupe. We don't actually see that, we only see two Angiers at any point, and that's when one of them is drowning.

Also, when Falon kills Angier in the basement of the old theater there's not another dupe around, we understand that Angier, and all his dupes, are dead.

I think that the significance of 100 nights is that it's a fairly long run and anyone can see it who cares to. It looks as though the theater is packed every night, so Angier's act seems to be wildly successful.
posted by bshort at 9:35 PM on November 12, 2006


I thought that 100 nights had some other significance, like the available space to store corpses or the limits of the machine. There must be a more satisfying answer!
posted by craniac at 10:05 AM on January 8, 2007


I'm glad this thread got made. I wish I had seen the movie earlier while it was still active. I finally saw the movie and had the same questions. I'm not sure whether I figured parts of the movie out too early or didn't figure everything out in the end.

ColdChef wrote:
And what was with the lingering shot of the body in the tank at the end? We KNEW there were bodies in each of those cases (which really seems like a wasteful way to store corpses), was that last shot supposed to be surprising? Am I missing something?

I was wondering the same thing. Was there some final twist we were supposed to get?

The 100 nights did seem like it should be significant as Nolan spends two separate scenes emphasizing it.

Did you notice how gaunt Jackman's character was at the end? It definitely seems as if the experience was taxing on him.

Michael Cain's bit about the sailor was probably the climax of the movie for me.
posted by Telf at 11:34 PM on February 25, 2007


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