As can be expected, a movie about magicians and illusions is naturally fraught with misdirection and disinformation; nearly anything presented in the first act is probably not what it will reveal to be.
"Are you watching closely?"
So The Prestige begins, and takes the viewer into a world of obsession, two former friends driven to an escalating war of vendettas started over the accidental drowning of Angier's wife.
Big and small hints of the secret are scattered throughout the story - from the opening monologue where Cutter explains how every magic performance has three acts, The Pledge (where the magician shows you something ordinary, but probably isn't), The Turn (when the magician makes this ordinary something do the extraordinary), and The Prestige (the grand finale, where the audience witnesses something they've never seen before). The film follows the format, telling the story in reverse chronological order of a trial where one magician is accused of murdering another.
Obsession - the story simmers in its broth from Borden's admiration for the Chinese magician's willingness to pretend to live as a 'cripple' 24/7 just to give him the latitude to perfect a single illusion in his act. When Borden's knot results in the death of Angier's wife Julia, Angier begins a vendetta and attends Borden's performances to ruin his tricks - setting off a low-grade war, alternating between attempts to steal each others' secrets and destroying each others' reputations.
The Reveal was something of a dissapointment for me - while I loved the revelation that Borden lived as two brothers sharing one identity all for the purpose of supporting a single inexplicable illusion (like the Chinese magician he admired so much), I had hoped there was a mundane explaination for Angier's version of the 'Transported Man' trick. The idea of a Duplicator seemed like a cheat (even though the idea of drowning one's own doppleganger a hundred times was a chilling reminder of the depth of his obsession).
1. Have you seen The Prestige?
2. Did you figure out what really happened before the ending/reveal of The Prestige?
3. For those who've watched both: how does The Prestige compare to The Illusionist?
For those who have not seen the film, spoilers are behind the cut and in the comments section and I strongly recommend that you avoid until seeing the film for yourself as it's a fantastic piece of storytelling it both atmosphere and visual beauty.
As you were.