Director: Christopher Nolan, Christopher Priest (novel), Jonathan Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier / The Great Danton), Christian Bale (Alfred Borden / The Professor), Michael Caine (John Cutter), Piper Perabo (Julia McCullough), Rebecca Hall (Sarah Borden), Scarlett Johansson (Olivia Wenscombe), David Bowie (Nikola Tesla), Andy Serkis (Mr. Alley), Ricky Jay (“Milton the Magician”)
Genres: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Released: October 20, 2006 (USA)
Running time: 130 minutes
MPAA: PG-13 — violence, disturbing images
In the end of the Nineteenth Century, in London, Robert Angier, his beloved wife Julia McCullough and Alfred Borden are friends and assistants of a magician. When Julia accidentally dies during a performance, Robert blames Alfred for her death and they become enemies. Both become famous and rival magicians, sabotaging the performance of the other on the stage. When Alfred performs a successful trick, Robert becomes obsessed trying to disclose the secret of his competitor with tragic consequences.
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• Ricky Jay, who played a magician in the film, coached Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in their sleight-of-hand techniques.
• Angier’s double mumbles a few lines from a speech while rehearsing on stage before his first performance. What he’s saying is actually the words of Harry Percy (Hotspur) from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, when called to appear before the king and explain his failure to turn over prisoners after a recent battle in Scotland. Apparently Hugh Jackman has used this speech in previous auditions. Presumably it was believed that having the double deliver a few lines from Shakespeare would lend him an actorly air, as his character is in fact a dissolute stage actor.
• Chung Ling Soo was a stage character created by a Caucasian American man, William Ellsworth Robinson, who disguised himself as a Chinese man to cash in on audiences’ enthusiasm for the exotic. Robinson lived as Chung, never breaking character while in public. He died in March 1918 when a bullet catch trick went wrong. “My God, I’ve been shot” were both his last words and the first English he had spoken on stage in 19 years.
• The main characters’ initials spell ABRA (Alfred Borden Robert Angier), as in Abracadabra, a common word used by magicians.
• Alfred Borden takes on the stage name of “The Professor.” This is the nickname that was given to Dai Vernon, the man many consider to be the best modern day sleight of hand magician.
• Christopher Priest created the “Langford Double Knot” for the original novel as a tribute to his friend and business partner, the author David Langford.
• Sam Mendes had shown interest in adapting Christopher Priest’s novel for the big-screen, but Priest insisted that Christopher Nolan direct the film, based on his love for both Following and Memento.
• Borden’s infant is played by one of director Christopher Nolan’s children.
• Sarah’s line “I know what you are” was not in the script. Rebecca Hall said that she felt terrible right after she said it, thinking she had given away the ending.
• Root, the on-stage double of Angier (Hugh Jackman), announces that he has played Faust and Caesar in the past. Both were famously portrayed on stage as men destroyed by their own ambition, as Angier eventually is.
Cutter: Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. 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 know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige.”
Cutter: You’re a magician, not a wizard.
Robert Angier: I never thought I’d find an answer at the bottom of a pint glass.
Cutter: Hasn’t stopped you looking, has it?
Alfred Borden: You went half way around the world… you spent a fortune… you did terrible things… really terrible things Robert, and all for nothing.
Robert Angier: For nothing?
Alfred Borden: Yeah.
Robert Angier: You never understood, why we did this. The audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It’s miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you… then you got to see something really special… You really don’t know…? It was… it was the look on their faces…
Alfred Borden: So… we go alone now. Both of us. Only I don’t have as far to go as you. Go. You were right, I should have left him to his damn trick. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for a lot of things. I’m sorry about Sarah. I didn’t mean to hurt her… I didn’t. You go and live your life in full now, all right? You live for both of us.
[after showing a little boy how to do a coin trick]
Alfred Borden: Never show anyone. They’ll beg you and they’ll flatter you for the secret, but as soon as you give it up… you’ll be nothing to them.
Alfred Borden: The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.
Julia McCullough: I thought up a name for you: The Great Danton. Do you like it? It’s sophisticated.
Robert Angier: [scoffs] It’s French.
Nikola Tesla: Nothing is impossible, Mr. Angier. What you want is simply expensive.
Gerald Root: You would drink, too, if you knew the world half as well as I do.
Olivia Wenscombe: The Great Danton is a blind fool!
Alfred Borden: [realizes Fallon’s buried after trading him back] Alive?
Robert Angier: How fast can you dig?
Nikola Tesla: Exact science, Mr Angier, is not an exact science.
Robert Angier: I haven’t had a chance yet to compliment you on your beautiful theatre.
Merrit: It’ll be a lot more beautiful when it’s full, Mr. Angier.
Robert Angier: So what’s going to be the climax of our show?
Merrit: Show? You don’t have a show.
Merrit: I’ve hired a comedian. You know I hate comedians.
Cutter: Ready to meet yourself, Mr. Angier?
Gerald Root: Did you think you were unique, Mr. Angier? I’ve been Caesar. I’ve played Faust. How hard could it possibly be to play the Great Danton?
Cutter: You settled on a name yet?
Robert Angier: Yes I have. The Great Danton.
Cutter: Bit old-fashioned isn’t it?
Robert Angier: No. It’s sophisticated.
Alfred Borden: Everything’s going to be alright, because I love you very much.
Sarah: Say it again.
Alfred Borden: I love you.
Sarah: Not today.
Alfred Borden: What do you mean?
Sarah: Well some days it’s not true. Maybe today you’re more in love with magic. I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something.
Alfred Borden: I love you.
Sarah: You mean it today.
Alfred Borden: Of course.
Sarah: It just makes it so much harder when you don’t.
Alfred Borden: We both had half of a full life, which was somehow enough for us. But not for them.
Cutter: I knew a sailor once, got tangled in the rigging. We pulled him out, but it took him five minutes to cough. He said it was like going home.
Hotel Manager: I thought they might work for the government.
Robert Angier: No?
Hotel Manager: Worse. They work for Thomas Edison.
Ackerman: We’ll have to dress it up a little. Disguise it. Give them enough reason to doubt it.
Nikola Tesla: I apologize for leaving without saying goodbye, but I seem to have outstayed my welcome in Colorado. The truly extraordinary is not permitted in science and industry. Perhaps you’ll find more luck in your field, where people are happy to be mystified. You will find what you are looking for in this box. Alley has written you a thorough set of instructions. I add only one suggestion on using the machine: destroy it. Drop it to the bottom of the deepest ocean. Such a thing will bring you only misery.
Sullen Warder: How did you get so famous then, eh?
Alfred Borden: Magic.
[after finding Gerald Root, Angier’s new double]
Cutter: He’s perfect. He needs some work, but when I get through with him, he could be your brother.
Robert Angier: I don’t need him to be my brother, I need him to be me!
[Root is performing as Angier’s double]
Cutter: You can go back to being yourself now, Root. For nothing.
Gerald Root: I’d rather be him for now. I find it… amusing.
Olivia Wenscombe: He says that it’s even between you.
Robert Angier: Even? My wife for a few of his fingers?
Nikola Tesla: You’re familiar with the phrase “man’s reach exceeds his grasp”? It’s a lie: man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.
Nikola Tesla: Society tolerates only one change at a time.
Nikola Tesla: Go home. Forget this thing. I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it.
Robert Angier: Why, haven’t good come of your obsessions?
Nikola Tesla: Well at first. But I followed them too long. I’m their slave… and one day they’ll choose to destroy me.
Robert Angier: If you understand an obsession then you know you won’t change my mind.
Nikola Tesla: Don’t forget your hat, Mr. Angier.
Sarah: No more lies. No more secrets.
Alfred Borden: Secrets are my life.
Robert Angier: The man stole my life. I steal his trick.
Robert Angier: He’s a dreadful magician.
Cutter: No, he’s a wonderful magician. He’s a dreadful showman.
Cutter: Obsession is a young man’s game
Robert Angier: No one cares about the man in the box, the man who disappears.
[In reference to a bird from a trick]
Alfred Borden: See? He’s fine!
Boy: But where’s his brother?
Robert Angier: Man’s reach exceeds his imagination!
Nikola Tesla: Things don’t always go as planned, Mr. Angier. That’s the beauty of science.
Alfred Borden: Are you watching closely?
Robert Angier: I thought you said I’d have to get my hands dirty.
Cutter: Maybe someday you will; I just needed to know that you could.
Officer: Do you have anything to say?
Alfred Borden: Abracadabra.
Robert Angier: Would I be the man in the box or the prestige?
Cutter: Take a minute to consider your achievement. I once told you about a sailor who drowned.
Robert Angier: Yes, he said it was like going home.
Cutter: I lied. He said it was agony.
Alfred Borden: A real magician tries to invent something new, that other magicians are gonna scratch their heads over.
Alfred Borden: Does he enjoy taking his bows under the stage?
Nikola Tesla: Have you considered the cost of such a machine?
Robert Angier: Price is not an object.
Nikola Tesla: Perhaps not, but have you considered the cost?
Robert Angier: My passion is equal to the task.
Olivia Wenscombe: It won’t bring your wife back.
Robert Angier: I don’t care about my wife. I care about his secret.
[Olivia visits Alfred Borden in his workshop. Bernard Fallon is there too]
Olivia Wenscombe: I’m here to give your show what’s still missing.
Alfred Borden: Yeah? What might that be?
Olivia Wenscombe: Me.
Alfred Borden: I was just saying that; weren’t I, Bernard? Woman’s touch.
Sarah: I know what you really are, and Alfred, I can’t live like this.
Alfred Borden: Oh, you think I can live like this? You think I bloody enjoy, living like this? We have a beautiful house, lovely little girl, we’re married, what is so wrong with your life?
Sarah: Alfred, I can’t live like this!
Alfred Borden: Well, what do you want from me?
Sarah: I want – I want you to be, honest with me. No tricks, no lies, no secrets. [pause] Do you – do you love me?
Alfred Borden: Not today. No.
Alfred Borden: You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty anymore, are you?
Olivia Wenscombe: [referring to Angier] He wants me to come work for you and steal your secrets.
Alfred Borden: What does he need my secrets for? His trick is top-notch. He vanishes, and then he reappears instantly on the other side of the stage – mute, overweight, and unless I’m mistaken, very drunk. It’s astonishing, how does he do it?
Burly Stagehand: Hey you! Where do you think you’re going?
Alfred Borden: I’m part of the bloody act, you fool!
Cutter: Every magic trick consists of three parts, or acts. The first part is called the pledge, the magician shows you something ordinary. The second act is called the turn, the magician takes the ordinary something and makes it into something extraordinary. But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it BACK. 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.
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