I wonder sometimes if movie producers get as frustrated as I do that no one seems to understand the deeper points of their art. It seems like every time I go see a great movie with all kinds of moral, political, or otherwise engaging dialogue presented through metaphor and underlying themes, I come home and read reviews (curious of what other people thought of it) and discover that not a single person drew the same conclusions that I did. In fact, often nobody else comes close. Now, in many instances, this could be justifiable proof of one's own insanity, however in this case it's because apparently nobody understands symbolism in art anymore. The best reviewers seem to have only a rudimentary understanding of the dialogue that goes on underneath the surface of any given form of entertainment, and even then the conclusions drawn often only scratch the surface of the deep well of thought and reason that all artists put into their work.
Anyway, enough of my ranting, on to the movie and more spoilers than a formula one race...
The Prestige was a movie that at first I hated, kept me from sleeping for a night (The result of watching it for the first time at 2 AM) and then through a mind-warping process of consideration came to adore. My greatest cinematic love is a marvel of writing that keeps one guessing and leaves him astounded, amazed, dumbfounded, and otherwise tickled by the ending. The Prestige nicely delivers on all counts. I've read numerous other reviews that arrogantly sprayed the typical "oh it was too predictable, it was obvious halfway through, blah blah blah" that follows any genuinely intelligent movie. I would just have you know that all of these people are frauds who feel afraid that by admitting that they were surprised by the ending they will somehow lose the other half of their manhood.
Insults aside, what intrigued me most about the movie wasn't the plot twist (as spectacular as it was); rather, it was the incredible moral implications and ethical statements being made. As with all my reviews, I'm simply assuming you've already seen the movie, as to avoid cluttering my blog with the same tired summaries that everyone else's reviews already contain. If you want that, just type the movie into Google and you'll get a page-full of them. The Prestige carried some rather hefty points to consider in the realm of ethics: from cloning to life itself, but the most interesting was on the depravity of man. I found it fascinating to compare the two magicians' approach to the Transported Man (which, in essence, was no more than a glorified version of the birdcage trick... and both methods became evident in both the birdcage and the Transported Man).
The allure of the birdcage with the dove was that the dove never actually was harmed. The dove in the cage was the same as the one in the prestige, this was the envied and desired effect... the question was what would be sacrificed to achieve it?
Borden's method of the illusion of the Transported Man involved a Tesla clone of himself. In order to satisfy both men's need for the spotlight, they sacrificed every other performance in order to be the one in the prestige the next night. Also, in doing so, they sacrificed half of their lives. Each loved a different woman, and in the end, neither was with the woman he loved. Borden was ultimately the man who made the most personal sacrifice. He gave up all his pride, his public image, everything he had in order to protect what was precious to him... life. His sacrifice cost him his marriage, his happiness, and his reputation, but it provided for the life of his daughter. He didn't want to get his hands truly dirty, and he didn't, even though he gave the illusion of doing so. He only repayed what was dealt out to him through even terms of revenge (though the ethical ramifications of revenge are an entirely different matter) and never went further than his opponent.
Angier, on the other hand, was different. His sacrifice was greater physically, but less personally. His pride would not allow him to be the man behind the curtain, he couldn't handle being the man in the box that "nobody cared about." He needed, craved, being the man in the prestige, and when everything else was stripped away from him by his pursuit of this obsession, he decided he could not live without it. So, when he came into possession of Tesla's machine and the ability to replicate himself, he opted instead to drown himself nightly rather than live with "taking his bows under the stage." In Angier's case, he could not bear to lose his reputation, and so decided to sacrifice his life in exchange for his pride.
This brings us to the issue of human depravity. If all evil in the world is contingent on man's selfishness, then the ethical dialogue of the movie is rather clear. Despite both of their grievous losses, Borden is the only man who lives to see another day. Borden's daughter is saved, he never dirties his hands any more than his opponent already has, and he exhibits a clear value of life. Angier, on the other hand, in his selfishness--his desire above all else to claim the prestige of his act--sacrifices his own life nightly in order to preserve the pride of his accomplishment. The entire show, as he reveals in the end, is nothing but an ego trip for himself, "don't you understand why we do it? For the look on their faces..." Angier dies alone, surrounded by the horrors which he wrought--a victim of his own greed. However, ironically, by his willingness to sacrifice himself and essentially murder Borden by allowing him to hang, the pride he fought to preserve dies with him, and Borden, by sacrificing his own pride and his own personal happiness, retains his life by that sacrifice. Where Angier's slaughter of his clones only kept him "alive" one day at a time, Borden's willingness to share his life with his one clone allowed him to survive execution. Selfishness was the ultimate destructor of man.
That's what it comes down to really... what is the point of all your endeavors? Why do you do the things that you do? What motivates you to make sacrifices?
...are you willing to be the man in the box?