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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Moral Paradox?

The topic of this entry is a complete and total spoiler alert for the movie, The Prestige. If you haven’t seen this movie and plan to do so, DON’T READ ANY FURTHER.

Still here? Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Today, I just watched The Prestige—wonderful film, by the way. I think I’m going to add it to my Amazon wish list. Amazon lists its genres as drama, fantasy, and thriller. However, because of the single concept used as the climax of the movie that I feel the science fiction genre should be added.

Here comes the spoiler: one of the main characters, Robert Angier, played by Hugh Jackman, used a fictional device created by Nikola Tesla (played, in the movie, by David Bowie, though Tesla was very much a non-fictional person) which used electricity to instantly clone himself—the purpose being to quickly get from one place to another as part of a stage magic show.

Angier and Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale, both perform a teleportation trick earlier in the film, but both accomplish the feat with the help of a double. In Borden’s case, the double was an unknown twin who even had two of his fingers cut off to match the injury of his brother. Angier also used a double, but it was someone his team found who looked exactly like him.

However, Angier ultimately reworks his version of the trick to use Tesla’s cloning machine. But, to avoid risk of someone recognizing the clone—a never-ending danger for Borden—Angier drops through a trap door in the stage into the same type of water tank in which his wife, played by Piper Perabo, had died during a performance. That Angier drowns and the cloned Angier appears elsewhere in the theatre to an amazed audience. The limited engagement show is only performed 100 times. Though subtle glimpses are seen a bit earlier, the very end of the movie reveals that a room contains 100 tanks still full of water and the dead clones of Angier.

There’s a really serious moral paradox to consider here, which I’m sure is being discussed at great length in other forums. Since I don’t care to get involved in such forums, I’ll just leave some thoughts here and welcome your comments.

The morality to which I refer is this: pretending for a moment that the cloning was not a fictitious plot device, would Angier be guilty of murder? Suicide? Clearly, Angier willingly stepped on the trap door and allowed himself to drown, knowing full well that he’d live on in the clone which wouldn’t have endured the experience of drowning—at least not until the next performance. After the 100th show, the final clone would have never experienced the drowning.

I’m not sure which way I lean on this topic. It isn’t murder since Angier never kills anyone but himself. But, it doesn’t seem like suicide because Angier lives on—at least until the end of the film when he is shot by Borden. Yet, Borden’s action notwithstanding, someone did die every time the trick was performed. Therefore, in spite of it not seeming like murder or suicide, one or the other must’ve taken place.

Note—my blog engine automatically disables comments after a period of time. If I notice that discussion is still occurring often enough, and I realize the comments on this entry have been disabled, I’ll re-enable them ASAP. If you want to comment and can’t because it’s disabled, I implore you to come back within a day or so, by which time I should have noticed and re-activated them.

» Posted by ALBj at 08:41 PM (ET)
Category: Musings


The Prestige is probably my second favorite movie of the year. I’m not sure why it seems to be underappreciated. Anyway, to answer your question, I think it’s definitely suicide. Sure, a copy of him lives on, but the original doesn’t just disappear—he drowns to death. Since the clone hasn’t experienced the drowning, he’s obviously a different person than the one that gasped for air and finally died. No one’s living on with the memory of drowning; that man killed himself.

Also, IIRC, one of the early Angiers (before the 100 shows) killed one of the other Angiers with a pistol. So, actually, the 100 that suicided, plus the last one who was killed by Borden, were all murderers.

» Posted by Michael
March 19, 2007 08:24 PM

Ah, you’re right. Angier did murder a clone after he tried the machine for the first time.

But while that would definitely seem to fall under the murder category, I’m not sure it means that the 100 other deaths weren’t suicides.

But, there was sort of a question that I didn’t literally ask in the blog entry—since suicide isn’t typically treated as a crime, and pretending for a moment that he didn’t shoot the first clone, do you think Angier did wrong?

» Posted by Lee Bennett
March 19, 2007 10:32 PM

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