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In the movie The Prestige, two magicians rival over who can perform the best Transported Man illusion.

In the end, Alfred Borden's secret is

that he actually has an identical twin with whom he could perform the trick. He would disappear, his twin would reappear at the other end of the stage.

Robert Angier on the other hand

uses a machine that clones him and transports the clone to the other end of the stage. He drops through a trapdoor to drown below the stage and be disposed of after, while his clone reappears. Next time he does the trick, his clone is the one who drowns and a clone of the clone reappears and so on.

After watching the movie, I asked myself the question:

Why does Robert Angier not use the machine a single time to create a clone of himself and then perform the act together with his clone in a similar fashion to Alfred Borden? That way, he would not have to die every evening and there would not be a body to dispose of after every performance.

The audience would not be able to tell the difference, the sparks the machine creates could still be used only for show and the whole infrastructure of blind stagehands and transportation would be unnecessary.

  • 1
    i seem to recall a quote about this being done to exemplify the obsession he has with winning - to the point that he's willing to do this over and over. – phantom42 Aug 25 '15 at 18:09
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    I seem to recall that he was really disturbed by the creation of his clone. I don't think he wanted there to be two versions so of him existing for longer than the time it took to perform the trick. – Jack B Nimble Aug 25 '15 at 18:10
  • He can't trust his clone; he can't trust himself. Simple! – Lightness Races with Monica Apr 22 '16 at 23:23
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Note what happened the first time that Angier used the machine:

He kept a loaded gun handy, nearly within reach from his place inside the machine. When he saw his duplicate, he immediately, almost instinctively, moved to kill the duplicate.

My conclusion based only on this action would be that Angier is afraid of the consequences of what his machine does. He also states as much at the conclusion of the film:

"Do you want to see what it cost me?" ... "Let me show you. It took courage to climb into that machine every night. Not knowing if I'd be the Prestige, or the man in the box."

(This quote is taken from a copy of the script, which I don't know the absolute accuracy of.)

This line, particularly the statement that "it took courage", exemplifies Angier's existential fear regarding his situation. He's afraid of what this seemingly supernatural machine implies about humans, or living things, or reality itself:

He knows now that a living human being can be duplicated exactly, retaining all of its thoughts, feelings, and memories. When the first duplicate appears, it's clearly startled. Angier #2 cried out "No, wait! I'm the-" before Angier #1 shot him. I think we can assume that Angier #2 was about to say that he's the "real" or original Angier. He believed himself to be the one who entered the machine, and did not expect to find himself across the room.

If the two are physically identical, and share the same memories up to the moment that the machine was activated, there's no way to distinguish them. This shakes Angier #1's own belief that he is the original, inviolable being that has lived its life as Robert Angier up to this point. He can never know if he's the same physical being who entered the machine, or a new Angier who was created by the machine. He is afraid that he is not the "real" Robert Angier.

The issues this raises about the nature of thought are far beyond the scope of this question. Suffice it to say: we believe we continue through life as the same person because of our unique memories. If these memories could be duplicated, it would create doubt that we are truly the individuals we believe ourselves to be.

A living, breathing reminder of that doubt was too much for Angier to bear. He could never banish that doubt from his mind - as represented by both his final statements and his warehouse full of drowned duplicates - but he was afraid to face it fully by allowing a duplicate to live.

4

Reiterating my answer to the same question on the Movies & TV Stack Exchange:

It just doesn't fit to Angier's nature. One of the major differences between Borden and Angier is, that Angier couldn't ever imagine to devote his entire life to "just a magic trick", and always wanted to go the easy way, whereas Borden took his art as serious as to only live half a life for his entire life, which in fact was "his real trick and shows true dedication to his art".

That is the reason why Angier couldn't imagine Borden to use a double, since his own fast experiences with this were rather unfruitful (yet, he was lucky enough to find his exact double in London, but nevermind ;-)) and why he couldn't get behind the old Chinese magician's trick, while Borden undertsood it immediately. And this is also the reason why he doesn't want to use a double. [...] Both Angiers would have the same personality and [...] there wouldn't be any one who had more right to be the "real" Angier [ref: Who is the original in the movie The Prestige?]. So in order to not share his whole life with another Angier to keep the trick secret, he went the fast and easy (and pretty dirty) way of a forced move operation instead of a copy. On the longer perspective Borden's way of keeping the secret wasn't really "less stressful" if you consider what Borden had to sacrifice in his non-stage life in order to keep up his trick.

And an additional factor is also, that I for myself think that Angier didn't just do those tricks to do a good show and win against Borden success-wise, but also in order for the supposed "murder" to happen one day and to ultimately win against Borden. And for this one Angier had to die.

3

Please note that he was able to perform the "teleportation tick" before

using a double - drunkard who was looking very similar to him. Problem was, that in the end it was the double who was getting the spotlight during the prestige, something that Angier couldn't take: He has done all the hard work and they cheer at someone else?!

He is absolutely egotistical, only himself is allowed in the spotlight, so it would be impossible for

his clone to work as a double, because his copy would share his mania and wouldn't agree to be the one that has to hide, while the other one reaps the applause.

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