Aaron Smith’s Response Journal


The Prestige’s Protagonist: Borden vs. Angier

Jared and Andrew agree that The Prestige’s protagonist is Borden, since he is a more sympathetic character and since his actions drive much of the story forward. (Triggering the feud with Angier, witnessing his death and being charged for it, and then reading his journal) However, I don’t believe we can call Borden the sole protagonist. Here’s why:

First, in terms of sympathy, it’s hard to get over the fact that Borden was responsible for Julia’s death. I mean Angier unfairly loses his lover, doesn’t get an explanation for it, then seeks revenge and justice—what’s more sympathetic than that? In addition, throughout the flashbacks, we know Angier’s attempts to kill Borden won’t work. For in the present, Borden is alive and Angier is dead. This knowledge certainly affects our emotions as Borden and Angier trade off sabotages.

The sympathy argument gets even trickier when you consider the instance of death in the film. Borden unintentionally provokes two other people’s deaths (Julia and Sarah) and intentionally murders another. (Angier). Conversely, Angier either intentionally kills one person (Borden) or 101 people (depending on whether you consider killing a clone to be murder). My point is that we can’t sympathize with solely Angier or Borden. They are so self obsessive that they completely disregard the lives of everyone else.

Second, in terms of driving the story forward, I was much more interested in Angier’s story than Borden’s. Much of what we see with Borden is his relationships with Sarah/Olivia and we don’t know the significance of these conversations and events until end. So we basically attribute these scenes as a means to show us that Borden’s love of magic inhibits his ability to love anything else. Meanwhile, Angier is on a quest for a machine that involves mysterious, fantastic science.  On first viewing, while Borden’s transporting man trick is intriguing, I think we mainly focus on Angier’s attempt to match the trick and come up with something even more spectacular.

That’s not to say that Angier is the protagonist because I think you can make a strong case for Borden as well. But ultimately, the film does not want us to play sides; the rivalry between Borden and Angier is not about good and evil. It is about the interplay between differing styles of commitment and obsessiveness. The film wants us to focus on the heated rivalry itself, not either of the characters. This effect is served by the narrators. Usually, homodiegetic voice-over narration wins the understanding and identification of the viewer since it cues us to concentrate on their perspective and feelings. Thus, it makes sense that we’d hear both Borden and Angier as narrators. We simultaneously experience them as protagonists as well as antagonists.

Perhaps, if anyone, we most easily relate to Cutter, who is also tangled up in the violent feud. I wouldn’t call Cutter the protagonist, but his role in the film is important because, again, it prevents us from taking sides. We have a sympathetic character we can emotionally latch onto so we don’t need to choose between Borden or Angier. Cutter grounds us in this way; we can identify with him since he is the most communicative of the narrators and the least knowledgeable.

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