Who’s the Better Magician in ‘The Prestige’?

“The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.” Christopher Nolan time and again uses his secret to blow our minds away and he literally weaved magic with yet another breath-taking and stupendous creation: ‘The Prestige’ in which he takes the ordinary and makes it do something extraordinary. The world of magic consists of tricks, secrets, showmanship, amazement and sacrifice; some may argue that it is nothing but cheap parlor tricks and refuse it with utter disdain, but personally I’m a magic lover and find it to be fascinating. ‘The Prestige’ is perhaps one of the best movies ever made on the world of magic, it is a work of art, a work of illusion and deception, a work which hides a trick in plain sight and we as viewers never manage to spot the trick, not on the first watch at least. It begins like a camera completely out of focus, it will irritate you, confuse you, even end up frustrating you, but that’s the thing with The Prestige, you’ll have to hate it before you fall in love with it and you’ll have to earn its love. Slowly and steadily everything comes into focus, a gradual process which makes the movie’s marvelous picture crystal clear and leaves you spellbound. It is gripping, suspenseful, moving and even darkly funny.

The two protagonists Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) are rival magicians who are willing to go to any limits so as to establish themselves as the best magician in whole of England. So who is indeed the better magician between the two: Is it The Professor, Alfred Borden, a masterful magician who is skilled, groundbreaking and original but a dreadful showman or is it The Great Danton, Robert Angier, the man who lives the act, a second-rate magician but a tremendous showman? This is the question around which this masterpiece revolves, a question which can be interpreted in numerous ways, a question which has sparked debates all across the world.

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Now as anyone who has seen this intellectually provocative and curiously moving piece, would know that both Borden and Angier are playing a daring game of one-upmanship and the rivalry drives them both towards acts of madness as they, besides mastering their own skills also end up incapacitating each other’s tricks, the most significant of which is ‘The Transported Man’ in which one walks in through one door and comes out of another across the room leaving the audience astonished and bamboozled. Being a better magician doesn’t just mean that one’s tricks are unique, captivating and deceptive. It also depends on how magnificently one presents the trick. The showmanship should be so mystifying that it entices the audience to push the boundaries of their minds and convince them to go beyond logic and reasoning and believe in magic. It should be so captivating that by the end of the trick the audience doesn’t even wish to learn its secret, they wish to be fooled.

So while a Borden aficionado may categorically say that Borden is the better magician between the two as his tricks are original and bound to leave the audience stupefied, an Angier enthusiast can conveniently counter him via the fact that Borden’s original tricks are unfinished without Angier’s above-reproach showmanship. Angier’s skills engrossed the spectators and made them feel as if they were a part of the trick, precisely the reason why Angier’s shows were a greater sensation than Borden’s till he came up with ‘The Transported Man’. On the contrary, Angier’s immaculate showmanship is futile if he doesn’t have a noteworthy trick up his sleeve, a trick so seamless that it leaves the audience bewildered beyond repair. So we can conclude that as much as Angier needs Borden’s tricks and secrets to become the finest magician, Borden is also just partial without Angier’s special modus operandi. How often it is that we find that two individuals, who if together would have made a formidable duo, end up engaged in an intense rivalry that leads to irrevocable damage and eventually, death.

Now, apart from intriguing tricks and astonishing secrets, the world of magic has a dark side too. It involves a great deal of self-sacrifice and it tests the lengths up to which one can go in order to safeguard one’s Prestige. Same holds true for our protagonists, Borden and Angier. We can’t decide who the better magician is until we reflect on the sacrifices and the losses incurred by both of them so as to safeguard their own Prestige. On one side of the coin we have the methodical, Alfred Borden who cut the fingers of his own twin brother, Falon to ensure that his version of ‘The Transported Man’ ended up being picture-perfect; and that’s precisely what happened, his trick was regarded as the greatest magic trick ever. On the flip side of the coin we have the man who lived the act, Robert Angier, who in spite of knowing that each night as he steps foot into Tesla’s machine, it is going to be his last night on the face of the earth; he still does the same to preserve his ‘Prestige’ and to ensure that his act is leaps and bounds ahead of his rival Borden. Besides these irreparable losses, Angier and Borden even lost the women whom they loved and cherished throughout their life, all just for to maintain their own “Prestige’ and become the finest magician in the world. Borden even lost his twin brother Falon and that too for a crime that didn’t transpire and even though Borden shoots Lord Caldlow in the end, the damages incurred by both of them are irrevocable and thus to me neither one of them is triumphant in the true sense.

After having paralleled all the key aspects, I would like to conclude by saying that Borden and Angier complete each other. Take one of them out of the picture, the other has no significance. As much as their rivalry was pivotal to the movie, I personally would love to see them work side by side and mystify the world with their magic.

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