Who’s Who in “The Prestige”? A Complete Breakdown.

The Prestige (2006), directed by Christopher Nolan, is a very complicated movie, primarily because two of the main characters are much, much more than they first appear. Only at the very end do we get any kind of confirmation of the real truth behind the illusion we were presented with throughout the film. This blog post sets out to properly identify and explain, scene by scene, exactly who is who, and remove the mysteries.

Spoiler Warning:

Everything following refers to a massive, massive spoiler in the The Prestige. If you have not yet seen the film, I highly recommend you stop right here, and go watch it first. This film has a big secret that you cannot “un-know” once it’s been spoiled for you, for example like The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, or Fight ClubFrom here onward I am assuming you know the secret. You were warned.

Introduction

So, to start with I am going to state the obvious secret: at the end of the film we find out that the magician Alfred Borden (“The Professor”) actually has a twin brother who has been sharing his identity. Suddenly, we realise we have been duped! In an ironic parallel, not only was The Professor misleading his audience in the story, the director was also misleading us watching the movie. We thought we were watching one man, when in fact, in every scene “Alfred Borden” could be either Twin #1 or Twin #2. Instantly we want to rewind and figure out which one is which! Who said this? Who said that?

And thus I began.

Why write this blog? Even at the start, it is foreseeably painstaking. But the internet (and the world) is full of idiots who don’t get this movie, and spread misinformed theories about it. For example, I recently read on the internet a wild theory for identifying Borden Twin #1 and Twin #2 by assuming one is a better thinker and the other a better performer. I will argue this is totally wrong because of the clear evidence that one brother is good at both thinking and performing in magic, while the other brother gets to the point where he doesn’t want to perform or think about magic at all. So, The Prestige is complicated, involving a lot of subtlety. However, once you know what to look for, the subtlety is of course not so subtle at all. As the character Sarah tells us early on, “once you know, it’s really quite obvious”, and in our subsequent viewings director Christopher Nolan seems to be ramming the hints right in our faces. And apparently, it’s up to me to spread them all out in a row, scene by agonising scene. (Ed: This draft blog was begun in 2014 and not finished until 2017. Painstaking indeed! It got too much for me, and I left it for years until my guilt outweighed my reluctance).

Thus I want to do a systematic analysis of the film and identify both of the twin Alfreds. If we can understand how each twin brother behaves differently from the other, it becomes possible to identify who is who in any scene by watching for their specific character traits. If you like this film half as much as I do, I am sure you have played this game yourself. I would love to hear if you think I’ve identified the wrong person in certain scenes. But this is my interpretation of the film. Disclosure: I have read the novel, but only once and frankly all I remember is that the details were changed enough for the screen adaptation that it does not inform the analysis very much.

Let the games begin.

The Twin Alfreds

The advertising poster above references a magic trick performed several times in the film, featuring one bird being squashed in a cage (“disappearing”) and its exact double being pulled out (“reappearing”) somewhere else, seemingly unharmed and magically transported. The introduction to the film, where Cutter performs this trick for the young girl, is showing us straight away a bird-version of what the two lads have gone through to create Alfred Borden and his “Transported Man” trick, right down to the detail of one of the twins being executed while behind bars. Not so subtle!

Now the first task for us is to identify which twin is which. We can’t just call them “Thing 1” and “Thing 2”. Their names are Albert and Fredrick. I originally wrote a very long justification for my educated guess about this, but in the end, I finally read the novel which gives us these names. I will proceed with using them because I have found absolutely no evidence the film screenplay adaptation has changed them.

Albert + Fredrick
Al + Fred
=Alfred

So Albert and Fredrick, or as I will more affectionately call them from now on, Bertie and Freddie, have their own names! But now for the hard part… how do we know who is who, if they both look the same? What makes them different? The rest of this blog post will go into that in great detail, but for the beginning, here are two headshots with brief introductions:

BERTIE is “the good twin”. He is more compassionate, emotionally intuitive, and gentle. He deals with problems in a calm way, and smiles a lot. He is pictured here with his loving family.

FREDDIE is “the evil twin”. He is impatient, bossy, egotistical, and lonely. He has a chip on his shoulder about others, and loves a good joke at someone else’s expense. He is pictured here imprisoned.

At this point it might be helpful to be very clear about the main cast, which with the spoilers now added looks like this:

ALFRED BORDEN / THE PROFESSOR, the protagonist magician, a character played by two men:
}Bertie (the good twin)
}Freddie (the evil twin)

FALLON, engineer in the employ of Alfred Borden, but merely a character also played by the same two men,

ROBERT ANGIER / THE GREAT DANTON, a rival magician, a character played by many men:
}Lord Caldlow (a rich gentleman)
}His 100+ clones
}Gerald Root (an alcoholic actor)

JOHN CUTTER, engineer in the employ of Robert Angier,

SARAH, wife of Alfred Borden, but only loved by Bertie,

OLIVIA, mistress of Alfred Borden, but only loved by Freddie; also former mistress of both Robert Angier and Gerald Root,

TESLA, an engineer that helps Robert Angier.

A quick, puzzling, tangential side note: How do we decide how to refer to the character Robert Angier / Lord Caldlow? Because there is a small moment in the story when Gerald Root actually impersonates Robert Angier outside the boundaries of the theater, I feel the most appropriate way would be to refer to the real rich gentleman as Lord Caldlow at all times for total clarity. However there is a complication. With the help of Tesla’s machine, Lord Caldlow clones himself around one hundred times! There is a whole thesis to be written on the effect of his cloning and killing of himself on his personality, but briefly my take on it is that each time he makes the choice of murder for the sake of his vain prestige act, each surviving clone is more inhuman than the last, and is somehow “less”. Therefore, in the end, it might not be strictly true to refer to the very last clone as Lord Caldlow at all! It might be more accurate to say Lord Caldlow was drowned the first time the act was performed, and mere bloodthirsty imposters have been living in his life ever since (c.f. The Ship of Theseus). But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life calling him Robert Angier Clone Version n1-100, so I don’t see that we need to do more than simply be aware of the fact that they are all imposters. Anyway. My convention will be to call him by the identity he is trying to inhabit at the time. For example, in scenes in public or with Cutter, Lord Caldlow always maintained the pretence of being Robert Angier; but when talking to his wife in private, Robert Angier was open about really being Lord Caldlow. Similarly, he let his audience believe he was The Great Danton, but it would be inappropriate to refer to him this way the whole time, as The Great Danton is a stage character brought to life as much by Gerald Root as Robert Angier, and it is not exactly right to say Danton travelled to America to visit Tesla. But of course Robert Angier’s life is very different to Lord Caldlow’s, for Robert Angier (according to the official record at least) has his public life cut short by Borden murdering him. Thus it would not be correct to refer to this character as Robert Angier right through to the end of the film as clearly only Lord Caldlow (or at least, a diminished clone) survives. So basically, Caldlow, Angier, Root, Danton, there is no correct catch-all answer.

Stay with me now!

OK, while there is a helluva lot that could be said about the themes of duality, twinning, and cloning in the movie, I will stop there. The rest of this essay will only address these themes obliquely as it completes the relatively simple task of pure identification of persons. I start by building two character profiles of our twin Alfred Bordens, and then use what we know to flesh out every single scene in the movie for them only, leaving Robert Angier aside for another day. Strap yourselves in for a wild ride.

So, Like, Where The Hell Do We Start?

It is no easy task to distinguish between two complex human beings that look physically identical. We will have to examine their speech and behaviour.

For deductive methods to work, we need to start from some hard facts, and as Alfred says in the film, the truth can be “a slippery notion” in the magic business!

It is fortunate that we have been given one, single piece of hard truth: in the final scene of the movie, the last remaining Alfred Borden informs a dying Lord Caldlow (and us) that there is one thing that well and truly sets him and his brother apart from each other:

“I loved Sarah; he loved Olivia.”

This one difference is our only starting point for analysis. The twin that is free loved Sarah, and the twin that was just hanged loved Olivia. And of course, we need to assume here that the free twin is telling us the truth. But with the rivalry and the games finally over, and the victorious Alfred rubbing it in the face of the loser, we have no reason to suspect he is lying. He is speaking painfully about personal sacrifices, and it rings true.

By the way, I have heard a crazy internet theory that Freddie’s eyebrow has a permanent gash in it while Bertie’s is full, and that that is the big hint we are supposed to follow for the whole film. I have never looked at that closely before, and while I may be able to judge its truth by the time I’m done, the whole point of writing this essay is to show that it is not necessary to have a physical ‘label’ on them. Let’s stick with character analysis; let’s start with loving Sarah vs. loving magic, and take it from there.

Bertie and Freddie: Loving Sarah vs Loving Magic

One Alfred loved Sarah. Which one?

Maybe this is the wrong question. If one twin loved Sarah, judging by the domestic arguments we see, it’s pretty safe to assume that the other one truly despised her. Sarah can detect the lie when he says he loves her but doesn’t truly mean it – “not today”. Robert Angier tells us “the family life he craves one moment he rails against the next”.  We are plainly told in different ways throughout the story that Alfred is hot-and-cold about loving his wife Sarah.

Therefore a more telling question to ask might be, which of the twin Alfreds hated Sarah?

Recall an important scene in the posh restraunt where Olivia and Fallon join Alfred and Sarah for dinner uninvited. Sarah immediately begins bickering with her husband, and Olivia calls him “Freddie” in a very familiar manner. Sarah is peeved at this, and she queries, “Freddie?”, and the twin sitting at the table, drunk and letting his guard down, replies equally peevishly: “Well, that is my name!”

The answer to the question appears to be that Freddie is the one that hates Sarah, loves Olivia, and ended up being executed in prison.

By simple process of elimination then, it seems Bertie is the one who loved Sarah and merely tolerated Olivia, and walked free with his daughter in the end.

Now that we know this, we can begin to work backwards from the end of the film, and unpack more details.

Freddie is the one who was caught sneaking into The Great Danton’s final performance, and accused of murdering Robert Angier. He is the one who is “more in love with magic than [Sarah]”. He is therefore the real drive behind the career of The Professor. In fact it is probably accurate to say he only loved Olivia because she could make his magician’s dreams come true for him, and “give your show what it’s missing,” as the image above suggests, showing him with his mind still on magic, practicing his sleight of hand with his wedding ring while making love to her. He is the one who couldn’t leave the rivalry alone. “You were right; I should have left him to his bloody trick!” he says regretfully while imprisoned. He is the one who sabotaged Angier’s performances with that sly, malevolent grin on his face each time, knowing he was winning and smarter than anybody. And crucially, he is the one that got Angier’s wife drowned in the first place, starting the whole rivalry, with his ambitious knot, “The Langford Double” that was going to prove his expertise.

That means that Bertie is the one who was saying “We’re finished.. we let him have his trick, both of us just leave him alone.” Bertie was the voice of reason and the one with empathy and care. While Freddie was swept away by ambition to succeed, Bertie was the one who loved his family more than his career or wealth, and ensured that when he had his turn living as Alfred for a week, he bought the house that made Sarah so happy. Bertie puts family first. Bertie opposed the relationship with Olivia and tried to make her stop calling him Freddie. Bertie went to offer his condolences for Angier losing his wife in the water escape tank. Bertie isn’t as proficient a magician as his brother, as we see him on stage at the beginning of the film, looking quite dopey as he stumbles to assist the mentor magician Mr Ackerman, gazing wistfully at Sarah in the audience when he should be focusing.

I think we have a real picture of the differences between these two boys. Despite appearing the same, they are driven by and to different things that I have summarily termed “good” and “evil”. Now let’s actually start looking at scenes from the movie!

Note: I have numbered these scenes any time in the film where Alfred could possibly have switched personalities. However due to overwhelming evidence that the bad-tempered, ambitious Alfred is always the one locked up, I will not be discussing prison scenes much, as they are clearly all Freddie. Bertie-as-Fallon does not somehow sneak in and take his brother’s place at the gallows. That was THE most idiotic of all the idiotic theories I read, particularly because it is probably true that Bertie believes Freddie deserves to die for the terrible things he did. So I’m saying, once and for all, that once Freddie is arrested for the murder, he stays behind bars for the rest of the film, and hangs. Really, really, really. Do not even bother thinking otherwise.

SCENE 1 (the first scene containing an Alfred Borden)

Timecode: the scene begins at 00h 01m 08s

DVD Chapter: 1

You can click on all of the following screenshots to enlarge and see which particular scene I am talking about.

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: We are told later (and we deduced above) that Freddie is the one who was caught backstage at Angier’s final show and accused of murdering him. This opening scene depicts those events.

SCENE 2 Timecode: 00:03:15 DVD Chapter: 1 (In the courtroom)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: Same reasons above. Freddie was apprehended at the scene of the murder, and has remained locked in irons hence.

SCENE 3 Timecode: 00:04:42 DVD Chapter: 2 (In the prison block, receiving Angier’s diary)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: Same as above. Every time we see Alfred in prison it is Freddie. In fact, for brevity’s sake, I am not even going to include discussion of any more prison scenes.

SCENE 4 Timecode: 00:11:39 DVD Chapter: 4 (Tying knots in Milton’s Water Escape trick the first time)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: The confusion Alfred shows about the knot to bind the assistant’s hands might suggest this is a less-proficient Bertie, but the next scene shows us it was Freddie on this night.

SCENE 5 Timecode: 00:13:40 DVD Chapter: 4 (Backstage after this show)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: The arrogance on display here is unambiguous. This Alfred tonight is full of condescension and ambition. He believes he knows best about knots and about how magicians’ careers should be run. E.g. “Like I said, it’s the wrong knot!” “He’s complacent, he’s boring!” “You think you know knots better than me?”

SCENE 6 Timecode: 00:16:20 DVD Chapter: 5 (Watching the Chinaman’s fishbowl trick and slow hobble into carriage)

Twin: Freddie?

Reasoning: Freddie is thrilled by magic. Spotting methods is his natural gift (and the reason Cutter hired him) and he immediately sees right through the frail old man act that baffles everybody. However, it is possible due to the calmer temperament on display in this scene that Bertie is playing Alfred tonight, and even though I have called him a less-proficient magician, he is probably as equally qualified to spot the lifelong deception as Freddie. What sways me towards Freddie in this scene is the comment about “total devotion to his art; it’s the only way to escape all this,”  which seems like something Freddie would say at this point while he is still totally absorbed by the magic of magic and it has not yet turned him into a monster. Bertie, I think, would have a more rounded worldview that included some warmth of human kindness in there alongside artistic endeavour.

SCENE 7 Timecode: 00:18:28 DVD Chapter: 5 (Talking to Sarah after the birdcage squash act)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: This Alfred can’t keep his eyes off Sarah! Furthermore he seems to be fumbling the magic act. He hardly seems like he is “totally devoted to his art.” This is Mr Family Man.

SCENE 8 Timecode: 00:19:51 DVD Chapter: 5 (Walking outside to talk to Sarah and Nephew)

Twin: Bertie?

Reasoning: This one is very hard to judge. It would make sense chronologically for Sarah and Nephew to be waiting outside the theater immediately after the show. However if time has passed, and this is their second or third date with Alfred, the dialogue where he talks to the nephew about “protecting the secret”and “being nothing to them without it” would make a lot more sense coming from a colder Freddie. Ultimately though, if we compare the clothing of the three characters from the scene immediately previous, it is the same. Hence this is Bertie, who clearly therefore has a lot of excitement about magic at this point in his life too, but uses it to make a kid happy. Interestingly, this is one of the few times Alfred ever reveals a secret! Do you think Freddie would have? No. Not for the sake of getting closer to Sarah. He would have kept his eyes on the prize. Bertie gave it up for the sake of improving his relationship prospects here.

SCENE 9 Timecode: 00:20:22 DVD Chapter: 5 (Walking Sarah home and then immediately appearing indoors pouring the tea)


Twin: Bertie (outside) AND Freddie (inside)

Reasoning: This is a fascinating scene that was a real headscratcher when I first saw it. I think I have found a mistake in the movie itself. I was comparing the clothing Alfred and Sarah were wearing, and it appears that they are both wearing the same outfits that they were wearing a short time ago when at the magic show with the nephew. It seems we are to believe that this all takes place on the same day, then? In that case… how the hell have Freddie and Bertie worked out the whole routine about asking for a cup of tea, and found out where Sarah lives and broken in? Like I say, I think this is a mistake, and they should have been wearing different clothes to mark a different day. But anyway, I say Bertie because it makes a lot of sense that Bertie is the one taking her to lunch, making chit chat, making the emotional connection with the girl he likes, while Freddie remains inside waiting in eager anticipation for the flushed excitement of a surprised Sarah; he gets his favourite part which is celebrating the last act, “The Prestige”, of the Transporting-Alfred trick. Another clue might be the slightly unrehearsed and I might say “goofy” delivery of the lines to Sarah – “I could use a cup of tea … you think that lock’s enough to keep me out?” when compared with Freddie indoors saying, “milk and sugar?” which is definitely a rehearsed punchline, or “prestige” act. I think this is correct, but to be honest this is not a crucial scene except to hint at the secret to us.

SCENE 10 Timecode: 00:22:52 DVD Chapter: 6 (Tying the fatal Langford Double on Angier’s wife)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: Firstly, Freddie is the one with the “collection of exotic knots”, and the ambition to use them without approval from Cutter. But more importantly, very soon we read in Borden’s journal that “half of me was swearing blind I’d tied a normal slipknot and the other half certain I’d tied the Langford Double.” If we take this totally literally, then the most reasonable assumption is that Freddie tied the knot, accidentally killed her, and then denied it for the rest of his life, leaving it to be blamed on Julia or Milton’s ineptitude.

SCENE 11 Timecode: 00:35:39 DVD Chapter: 6 (At the funeral)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: The dialogue. He tells us that he honestly “doesn’t know” what knot was tied. This isn’t Freddie in denial. This is Bertie expressing sympathy but still not having the answer. He doesn’t know because he wasn’t there. Freddie was there; he tied the knot. Bertie tries to do the right thing and pay his respects. It would be inappropriate for Freddie to show his face, but Bertie after all was a friend and had nothing to do with her death.

SCENE 12 Timecode: 00:26:51 DVD Chapter: 7 (Meeting Fallon; telling Alfred the pregnancy news; revealing bullet catch method)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: You all know it! We are absolutely sure which brother this is. This scene is one of the most packed in the whole film. We are given so many different hints about the nature of the secret Alfred harbours. There is absolutely no doubt that this Alfred is Freddie, and the Fallon we meet who then promptly leaves with a few Irish words is Bertie, Sarah’s real lover.

Our first hint is how overjoyed Alfred is about his first magic act booking. It’s a whirlwind dream-come-true kind of day for Freddie, while we can assume that Bertie would probably be more excited at this point to see his wife (?) at the end of the day.

Our second big hint is Alfred’s very first reaction to hearing of Sarah’s pregnancy: “Oh my god! We should have told Fallon!” (pictured). Alfred says this because he is currently Freddie, and the baby does not belong to him: it belongs to Bertie as Fallon. (Side note, were the twins just fine with wife swapping throughout this film? Did Freddie sleep with Sarah whenever he wanted? Hmm).

Our third big clue in this scene is the beginning of Sarah being able to tell whether the Alfred she is talking to loves her or not. She sees that he doesn’t: “not today.” Today Alfred is more in love with magic than with her. This is a really crucial piece of information for us as it is something that sticks to the twins and identifies them, and apparently, to your lover at least, simply cannot be faked. Notice Freddie’s reaction is to pull away immediately, scared that someone stumbled right onto his secret.

SCENE 13 Timecode: 00:29:52 DVD Chapter: 7 (Angier shoots Borden’s fingers off at his debut performance)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: The dialogue. He tells Angier he doesn’t know which knot was tied. We know from earlier scenes this means it is because he wasn’t there, and he wasn’t the one tying the fatal knot.

Bertie therefore is the one who loses his fingers first on this night, and Freddie is the one forced to chisel his off at a later date. Another clue might be the uninspiring stage act that Bertie was giving for the thoroughly bored pub crowd at this point.

It is noteworthy that the narration from Alfred’s journal after this scene shows that Bertie was writing at this point, saying that he would never know for sure which knot Freddie tied. Later scenes reveal that Freddie was writing about Olivia and the rivalry with Angier. From this we know that Bertie and Freddie share the diary as freely as they share the name, both writing in it as Alfred whenever they are playing the character.

SCENE 14 Timecode: 00:32:20 DVD Chapter: 7 (Sarah examining Alfred’s newly-cut hand)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: we learn in later flashbacks that one of the twins lost his fingers when Angier shot him, and the other had to have them chiseled off in order to maintain the physical similarity. Since we determined in the previous scene that Bertie lost his fingers first, by elimination this must be Freddie. Another clue is the disrespectful, resentful manner in which Alfred speaks to Sarah in this scene, and the determination that his master magic trick will save him yet, despite things looking grim.

SCENE 15 Timecode: 00:37:36 DVD Chapter: 9 (Sabotaging Angier’s debut birdcage trick)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: Malevolence. Vengeance. The Bertie in my head is saying to himself “ok, the man lost his wife, I understand why he was so angry and came to shoot me.” But not Freddie. To Freddie this is all a big game, one which he loves winning. Alfred doesn’t speak in this scene, but I believe we are watching Freddie, who without words is saying “Sabotage my debut, will you!? Make me have to cut off MY fingers, will you!? I’ll show you! Somebody else around here is going to be losing some fingers before I’m through!” We also know that Freddie uses disguises to sneak into Angier’s shows often (since he is the one who was caught doing so and arrested for murder). Finally, of course, Freddie (we will see soon) is the one able to “spot his methods from the back of the hall” and determine exactly how to wreck the cage and break the lady’s hand.

SCENE 16 Timecode: 00:42:51 DVD Chapter: 10 (Angier stalking Borden to Tesla’s exhibition and meeting his family)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: We see at the end of this scene that Alfred walks down the street to embrace his family, and is all smiles. When he tells Sarah he loves her, she immediately knows that “today it’s true!” Sarah does some of our work for us by telling us whether it’s true love today or lies.

This scene also introduces the misdirection of making Angier believe Tesla has created the act – remember Tesla was just an idea at this point and The Transported Man trick had not yet been performed by anyone. But what’s weird about this is that it means Bertie planned for Angier to be stalking him, planned to be seen with his happy family? That seems odd. Surely he would want to keep his family away from this enraged, stalking lunatic?

SCENE 17 Timecode: 00:46:26 DVD Chapter: 10 (Alfred in prison)

Twin: FREDDIE

I have already said that it is totally unnecessary to debate whether or not it is Freddie in prison, and I have skipped some scenes with Freddie reading Angier’s diary while he is in prison. This one prison scene, however, is quite important to discuss for a moment, because it well and truly pins Freddie’s character for us.

This scene shows us two key things: first the guard taunting him, snatching his notes and saying, “let me see! Am I going to learn all The Professor’s secrets?”, and Freddie replying in a very biting, hateful manner, “only if I teach you how to read,” because quite simply he is mean.

But more importantly it shows us Freddie laughing, bowing, and lapping up the applause of the fellow inmates when he reveals the third act / “prestige” of his “escape your prison chains and lock the guard in them instead” trick, and absolutely epitomises being in love with magic instead of being in love with … y’know … your freedom to be at home with your family!

SCENE 18 Timecode: 00:51:26 DVD Chapter: 12 (Angier in disguise at the first performance of The Transported Man)

Twin: Bertie?

Reasoning: There is very little evidence one way or the other in this scene. And of course, we know that every time the twins perform the trick, they are both involved, so in a sense, this scene does not really matter to us. It would only be important to figure out who was who if they were doing something irrevocable or plot-changing, which they aren’t.

However again I would lean towards Bertie because clearly the audience are absolutely bored out of their minds at this point with his soulless patter, (understandable since he is about to go into the box, and is probably sad that he won’t get to see his wife and daughter for a week while he is living as Fallon). Furthermore, Freddie is the one who really loves the thrill of the applause and vindication from being “the prestige” and being the man coming out of the box. Therefore I say, this is probably Bertie, though it doesn’t matter much.

SCENE 19 Timecode: 00:53:41 DVD Chapter: 12 (Alfred brings Sarah and Jess to their big new house)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: Really simple. This Alfred loves Sarah. As if we needed further confirmation, she mentions that “Alfred” had told her last week that they couldn’t afford it, and Bertie says to her “you caught me in the wrong mood,” indicating to us only the argumentative and career-focused Freddie, who always seems to be in the wrong mood when it comes to putting family first, would turn down the chance to pamper these two lovely girls. For Freddie, the magic act is the end. But for Bertie, the magic act is only the means to a different end, of providing for those he loves.

SCENE 20 Timecode: 01:01:44 DVD Chapter: 14 (Olivia comes to defect to Alfred)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: Bertie sees right through her. He sees Olivia as a threat to his happy marriage. Bertie, I would argue, is Fallon today, and as soon as she strolls into their workshop, he leaves in disgust. Therefore by default it is Freddie left. And we know later that he becomes intimate with her. We see in the extended version of this scene later, that immediately he has an intimate rapport with her.

There is also some dialogue where Freddie boasts “I can spot his methods from the back of the theater!” When Olivia walks in, Freddie is the one working on some kind of machinery, while Fallon, supposedly the engineer and the expert, is reclining in the corner, uninterested. These are quick and understated hints, but again show us it’s mainly Freddie running the career of The Professor.

Though there is nothing in the scene really showing it, I think things are starting to get serious for the twins at this point. Bertie doesn’t want things to change because his life is perfect right now, with the act allowing him to provide for his family; yet he is dependent on his brother Freddie to continue to provide this income, and can’t really stop him from acting out and upsetting the apple cart. Freddie, the one who is doing it simply for the thrill of doing it rather than as a means of income, is well aware that his brother can “make demands” and has a lot of leverage over him in giving up his family life to perpetuate this thrilling trick, but knows that he can also get away with whatever he likes when he has turn being Alfred. The affair with Olivia is never really honest and intimate, as they never tell her the secret, and it is possible Freddie is simply doing it to enjoy the spoils of his hard work and magician’s genius, and possibly to spite his brother.

SCENE 21 Timecode: 01:04:24 DVD Chapter: 14 (Talking to Gerald Root in the bar)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: The professional rivalry and sabotage continues. The talk of “complete power” also rings of Freddie being bitter that his brother is now unenthusiastic about continuing the lies that are beginning to harm his family. Referring to him as “this bloke” further depersonalises him. But for Freddie, family is of course simply the means to his end (getting glory).

Plus, y’know, the whole scene is moody and whispered and seems like a plot is afoot, and by this stage suspicion and conspiracy just seem like Freddie! (c.f. The Simpsons, “Just show the dog doing this … and people will suspect the dog!”)

SCENE 22 Timecode: 01:06:23 DVD Chapter: 15 (Ruining Angier’s trick; breaking his leg on the fall; tying up Root from the ceiling)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: Come on, now! We are way down the rabbit hole by this stage. We are now pretty much assuming that every time we see The Professor sabotaging The Great Danton, we are watching Freddie. The stage banter is perfect – it totally shames Angier, and is a fantastic advertisement for The Professor (whose show is opening right across the street!). This is one of my favourite scenes from the film because Freddie is so slick here, he is totally in the moment and making a hell of a prestige act, and it could not have gone better. He truly is a genius magician to work out how to achieve all that; what we don’t see is how he keeps Cutter from interfering, for example, which must have taken some organising.

What’s REALLY interesting about this scene is that FALLON is also in the audience of the show, watching his brother totally fuck things up for Angier! This means that … Freddie was planning this trick not only for his own vanity, but ALSO to show Bertie that magic could be “fun and games” again. We see Fallon stifling a laugh, so Bertie really truly did enjoy seeing this. It would be wrong not to appreciate this genius gag!

SCENE 23 Timecode: 01:10:18 DVD Chapter: 16 (Alfred’s workshop the morning after Angier’s break-in)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: He is concerned, somber, apprehensive; not at all elated! Bertie sees this and knows that retribution will rain down upon him – and eventually his family – as long as the rivalry continues. The dialogue is very short and slightly cryptic: “Notebook?” – Fallon nods, yes it’s gone, or rather we know later they are talking about the misdirection going to plan – “And he’s just getting started”. I don’t believe this is Freddie musing out loud – if this was Freddie he would be really excited that the rivalry was “just getting started!” I believe this is Bertie talking directly to his brother, saying, “look what you have gotten us into, there will be worse to come.” Bertie knows that because he loves people other than himself, he has so, so much to lose from any dangerous rivalry. I believe this is the time Bertie begins to think seriously about washing his hands of the whole thing.

**********

THE NEXT SET OF SCENES are very complicated. We start with Freddie coming out of the box doing the trick one night. Then he walks down the street, being stalked by Angier. Angier in turn is being followed by Fallon (Bertie) who falls into a box and is buried alive.

This means that Freddie is the one who pulls the big con on Angier by giving him the word “Tesla” and sending him off on his wild goose chase to America. It was not a spur of the moment decision; for some time they have incorporated a futuristic-looking Tesla machine into their Transported Man act to sow the seeds of this deception. Freddie also shouts FALLON! CAN YOU ‘EAR ME!? and frankly I don’t think we hear Bertie shout at all in the film. Freddie is the one prone to shouting – at Sarah, at Bertie, at Angier, at audiences, and in prison.

But now this shows us something really, really crucial about Freddie. We know that Freddie goes to dinner later with Sarah. However because we know now that he WASN’T the one who was actually buried, his bickering seems totally and utterly abhorrent. For the longest time, I thought that Freddie was the one who was buried, and that his binge drinking and talks of “losing something precious to me!” (i.e. his life!) were almost justified. But BERTIE was buried! The only thing Freddie would have lost would have been his “precious” magic trick! That’s why this scene is so pivotal. It paints Freddie in an inhuman light. He is so, so vain:

SCENE 24 Timecode: 01:10:36 DVD Chapter: 16 (the Transported Man with full Tesla effect; the stalking and kidnapping of Fallon; the dinner party)

Twin: FREDDIE.

Reasoning: Freddie comes out of the box at tonight’s performance, and gives his new love Olivia a very meaningful kiss.

Full of ego, he then decides to walk the streets, and arrogantly says “Let them come! I don’t care!”, speaking of the rivalry with Angier.

Bertie loads a pistol. He spots Angier and follows him into a building, to be captured and put into a box (more subtle director hints!). We know that the Transported Man trick is where the twins swap places, so there is no reason to believe they have changed since they walked out of the theater earlier this night.

Since Bertie is still nailed into the box, this is still Freddie who goes to the graveyard the next morning, to meet Angier and hand over the secret keyword: TESLA. He also begins by taunting Angier about being impressed, rather than with any concern for his brother, which is very Freddie.

They then go to dinner. All four of the are at the table together, and Alfred (Freddie) is very, very rude. Sarah knows that “this isn’t you” and that he is “performing”, which nails Freddie here for us over Bertie. As I mentioned above, this means the thing he almost lost that is “very precious to me” was not his life but merely his job, since he was not the one in the box. (Don’t forget that theme of the film: Nobody cares about the man in the box!). What. A. Dick.

Okay cool, Freddie is a dick. Let’s get back into the swing of things.

SCENE 25 Timecode: 01:23:40 DVD Chapter: 18 (At home with the Bordens; going to the zoo; alcohol)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: Sarah knows that this twin truly loves her today. This twin is a wonderful father. Easy.

SCENE 26 Timecode: 01:24:50 DVD Chapter: 18 (Meeting Fallon at the carousel)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: This is a direct continuation from before, and they have not swapped roles. Alfred all but begs Fallon to help convince Sarah that he still loves her, i.e. stop being such an asshole to my wife!

SCENE 27 Timecode 01:25:19 DVD Chapter: 18 (Meeting Olivia upstairs)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: by now, the hints are flying fast and furious and it’s getting pretty easy. In this scene, Olivia calls him Freddie, BUT, he asks her to stop calling him that, and says that he feels having a mistress seems wrong sometimes. While technically they could have swapped off-screen, this is definitely Bertie, still a continuation from the previous scene, unfortunately pressed into keeping a date with Olivia even though he would much rather be with his wife and daughter.

SCENE 28 Timecode: 01:29:50 DVD Chapter: 18 (The argument where Sarah finally figures out the truth and says “I know what you are!”)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: he tells us. He doesn’t love her, not today.

SCENE 29 Timecode: 01:35:14 DVD Chapter: 19 (Trying to confess love for Olivia; she dumps him)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: the conversation with Sarah about being truly open without secrets, and her subsequent suicide, has shaken him. He is trying to be real with Olivia now, and we know that Freddie is the one who loves Olivia. Easy again.

SCENE 30 Timecode: 01:37:10 DVD Chapter: 20 (In the audience of Angier’s Transported Man with Tesla machine)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: no real evidence, just a hunch from the grim looks on his face that life is suddenly catching up to him, and he is facing some terrible truths about himself and what he has gotten everybody into. The fact that immediately after this both the twins are in the workshop trying to figure out Angier’s method means that they have probably both seen it multiple times, so it doesn’t matter much to us who is here this time.

SCENE 31 Timecode: 01:40:09 DVD Chapter: 20 (In the workshop trying to figure out Angier’s Transported Man)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: I am very soft on this one. The frustration and anger on display would indicate Freddie. But Alfred says something very cryptic to Fallon: “Why can’t you out-think him?” which is confusing since I believe Bertie has all but given up on magic by now, with his wife dead, and certainly was a weaker thinker than Freddie all along. Why would Freddie expect Bertie to ever be able to out-think anybody? Perhaps he is just saying this because he is emotionally lashing out.

I’ll confess, this one scene has me baffled. Send me your comments!

SCENE 32 –Follows Directly On From The Previous Scene– (The Professor says “We’re done – let him have his trick and leave him alone”)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: the words. We learn later that Freddie was NOT the one who said “leave him to his trick”.

Notice how the director has dressed both twins in the same Fallon outfit here, to help us keep believing there is only one Alfred. In fact, both twins have been pulling night shifts as Fallon, skulking around Angier’s theater trying to discover secrets, as the sequence shows us, but only discovering the tanks being moved in darkness by blind stage hands. It is therefore NOT a direct continuation of the scene immediately previous to this, despite being edited together with moving images and sweeping music as if it were the exact same day and time. Days are going by quickly, but because neither of them have family or friends to worry about anymore, they both swap identities more frequently and easily in order to get closer as Fallon. It is unclear whether they are still even performing the act as The Professor at this point.

SCENE 33 Timecode: 01:41:54 DVD Chapter: 21 (The fateful performance when Freddie gets arrested for drowning Angier)

Twin: FREDDIE

Reasoning: we have come full circle, and we know he is arrested and thrown in prison for what happens on this night. We are nearing the end now!

 

***Here is a whole bunch of scenes in prison, which we know is Freddie and won’t bother discussing, and then finally…***

 

SCENE 34 (The entire ending sequence – The Professor hangs, while Fallon walks into Angier’s theater and shoots him, then reclaims his daughter from Cutter)

Twin: BERTIE

Reasoning: because the entire film has been about this one point, this one piece of information. His now-dead brother loved Olivia, and this man loved Sarah. Everything else followed from that. The free man is Bertie.

And now, my friends, after three years of drafting…we are done.

Now we know who is who in The Prestige.

Holy hell, this took a lot out of me. You see, sacrifice, Robert,…

Leave me your thoughts and comments!

 

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One Response to Who’s Who in “The Prestige”? A Complete Breakdown.

  1. Janet says:

    Andrew, the work you do is AWESOME! Loved “The Prestige” and seeing you decipher which twin is which is equal parts total craziness, but it is totally worth it (so I do not have to do it myself). Great post man! BTW I am still waiting for the second part of the character analysis for American Beauty! But these posts are super enjoyable and hilarious to read. Thanks again.

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