The film is a sleight of hand, a series of misdirections, a skillful trick. Like Cutter (Michael Caine) says at the start, as in magic, you have to watch very closely. Who needs the Wachowski brothers? I’ll take the Nolan brothers over them anytime. They are so much subtler, not as in-your- face (I am not amused by the Wachowskis’ “look at how many allusions we’ve embedded in our movie aren’t we so very smart” references particularly in the indigestion-inducing Matrix Reloaded). I love The Prestige not so much for the mystery as for the writing. The film is structured in a non-linear fashion, with 3 timelines crisscrossing each other: in the present, a fatal accident occurs and Borden (Christian Bale) is on trial. He is given Angier’s (Hugh Jackman) journal, in which Angier recounts his search to unlock the secret of Borden’s Transported Man by decrypting the latter’s notebook, which in turn recounts how they started out as assistants and eventually became the most bitter of rivals.
It is a multi-layered story that is not only about magic in the Victorian age, but is also about rivalry and revenge, about what it costs to create a grand illusion, about the thin line between driving passion and all-consuming obsession.
Some were turned-off by the (Angier-related) twist at the end. (Waaha, it's a sci-fi fantasy film pala!) For me, that wasn’t actually the major twist that viewers were being led to. (If Tesla's science, or magic depending on whose POV -- I love how the setting was in the Victorian era, at a time when rationality and intuition were starting to collide -- was meant to be the climactic twist then they wouldn’t have shown us all those hats and cats in his backyard.) Borden’s secret was the greater twist. While I suspected it earlier on, I still couldn’t be sure till the very end, for, like a good magic trick, the filmmakers left room for doubt, much like Angier’s trapdoor in his final performances. You think you know but you really can’t be sure. (And then again, if you are a smart aleck and did know for sure, it’s still a dang well-written movie!)
What does it take to enjoy The Prestige? The very thing that witnessing magic requires: suspension of disbelief. If you fail at that, then the movie will probably suck.
End note. David Bowie is in the movie. What a surprise, I didn’t know that until I checked the cast list a day after seeing it. So that’s why Tesla looked vaguely familiar. I did recognize Andy Serkis (a.k.a. Gollum) instantly though. Huh, figure that out.