Written by Old Bluffer 16th Apr 2007
Written by the Countess of Ole
This film is filled to the brim and beyond with so many twists and turns it's difficult to keep track of them all, telling its story in an extremely non-linear fashion. The film starts with Angier's death. He is performing a trick called the "Transporting Man," and Borden is seen going below stage to try and figure out Angier's trick like a naughty little magician. During the course of the trick, a trapdoor opens underneath of Angier and he falls through the stage, flopping gracelessly into a large water tank right in front of Borden. The lid snaps shut and locks, trapping Angier within. Naturally, Borden freaks out and starts frantically smashing the tank with an axe while Angier flails about in the water and inevitably drowns.
But as I've said, this is far from a linear movie. And, odd as it may sound, this is definitely not the only death that the writers saw fit to make Angier suffer.
Essentially, the tale begins with two aspiring magicians, Borden and Angier, who both work for a static magician named Milton. However, when a water escape trick goes horribly, horribly wrong, resulting in the death of Angier's wife, and the best candidate on which to place the blame for said mishap is Borden (because he may or may not have tied the wrong knot on the rope binding her wrists) the two part ways and each start their own magic shows, thus setting the foundations for rivalry.
Fueled by vengeance and utter hatred for Borden, Angier visits one of Borden's magic shows and manages to be the selected volunteer for a particularly dangerous trick called the "Bullet Catch." Slipping a bullet into what is, for the purpose of the trick, supposed to be an unloaded gun, he manages to shoot off a couple of Borden's fingers. Shockingly, this starts off a series of progressively worse acts of violence the two perform against each other. Borden comes and, also somehow succeeding in being chosen as a volunteer, snaps a trick birdcage shut prematurely during one of Angier's tricks, thusly squashing a poor dove, crushing a random woman's fingers, and utterly ruining Angier's reputation as a safe magician. Now Borden thinks the scoreboard is even (keeping in mind that he didn't mean to cause the death of Angier's wife. He doesn't even know if he did cause her death).
But meanwhile, Angier's as ticked off as ever. To him the scoreboard is Borden: 2 Angier: 1. And he can't stand it. While Angier stews away in his own misery and contempt, Borden's career as a magician flourishes and he picks himself up a lovely little family to boot... everything Angier feels that Borden took away from him. When Bordon comes up with one dewsy of a magic trick called the "Transporting Man" (sound familiar?) Angier makes it his life's work to steal this trick and make it his (his justification being that Borden is a crappy showman and doesn't do the trick the justice it deserves). So he sends off his bit of fluff Olivia to work for Borden and find out his secret. She goes and turns sides on him and when Angier comes out with his own version of the trick using a double (he originally calls this the "New Transporting Man") Olivia tells Borden exactly how Angier does it. Borden promptly swoops in, wrecks the party, cripples Angier for life, and makes an utter fool of him in front of his loyal audience.
Borden: 3 Angier: 1
Angier, ticked off beyond all belief, steals Borden's journal, kidnaps Borden's best buddy Fallon, buries him alive, and coerces Borden to give him the keyword to his journal. However, in the process of giving Angier the key to his journal, Borden also presents a big, juicy red herring that sends Angier off on a tangent to America for two years. There Angier meets a super-genius named Tesla and has him make a big electrical device that supposedly transports people for real when it zaps them (but what it really does is duplicate them, and the clone ends up appearing fifty or so yards away). When Angier first takes this baby on a test drive, it zaps him, and seemingly nothing happens, but he looks across the room and, lo and behold, there's another Angier! He panicks, grabs a gun and shoots the other Angier, completely ignoring that Angier's pleas for his life.
Now let's take a pause here and reflect on something. Did he just commit suicide or murder?
Ahem... anyway, it's at this point that Angier turns truly evil. He sets up 100 performances with his new and improved "Transporting Man" as the climax, but to successfully perform this, he sets up a trap door underneath of where he must stand to get zapped by the machine. When the machine zaps, the trap opens and dumps him into the water tank (as we see in the beginning) and locks him there. This successfully drowns the excess Angier and the duplicate, which ends up at the back of the room, performs the trick's "prestige." He hires blind stage hands to cart off the water tank (complete with Angier corpse) after each performance. This means essentially that Angier meticulously drowns himself at least a hundred times. The last of these performances (the only time we actually see it happen) the duplicate does not reveal himself for the "prestige" but instead retreats back to his mansion, leaving us with the scene at the very beginning of the film: Borden seeing Angier drown under the stage. Borden is convicted of somehow moving the water tank under the stage and killing Angier and is therefore sentenced to death and executed. Angier has completed his ultimate revenge.
His life work complete, he takes the transporting/cloning device to the dismal place where his blind stage hands have placed all of the water tanks with his corpses in them, intent on destroying everything. But alas, he hears a sound. Out of nowhere the red rubber ball, signature of Borden, bounces out of the darkness at Angier. He catches it and looks up in time to see a dark figure raise a gun and shoot him. He makes a strange noise, falls to his knees, and looks very surprised when the dark figure turns out to be Borden. It is at this point that, despite having sustained a mortal gunshot wound, Angier and Borden hold a very long conversation that reveals everything heretofore unexplained. It is this conversation that reveals that there were really two Bordens. They were twins, but to disguise this one or the other of them would be dressed up as the fictitious Fallon (which explains why Borden was so attached to the guy). Now that one of the Borden twins was dead, the other one would be living for the both of them, and his first order of business was killing Angier in vengeance of the dead twin. All of this revealed, Angier, giving one last touching speech, keels over and dies, kicking over his lantern in the process and setting everything on fire (just to make sure he was good and dead). This being the last Angier, there are no more of him left to kill, and the story ends.
To be honest, I have no idea exactly what Angier's archetype is. For at least the first half of the movie, Angier is actually the character you're rooting for, but as time wears on, his rivalry with Borden becomes so heated that you wonder how you ever could have been on his side. In the end, his deeds are extremely villainous (which is why I put him down for "baddy"). It's just difficult to say. I'll leave it ultimately up to you.
Another note on the categories: I've marked it as Self-Sacrifice because every time he stepped into that machine he knew he was going to die, and the very last time he did it, he did it with the purpose of framing Borden with his death. Also, I'm not sure if either Reincarnation or Resurrection qualify for this given the fact that every Angier that died stayed dead. I left them blank, but I'm not sure of that judgement. Once more, entirely up to you.
Editor Note - I've just finished the novel, and have the film adaptation ready to watch on DVD - so I'll publish this once I've seen it! - Old Bluffer