Even The Stars Of The Prestige Weren't Told How Their Tricks Were Done

As Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" tells us in its opening scene, there are three steps of a magic trick. 

1. The Pledge — show something ordinary.

2. The Turn — do something extraordinary, like making the object disappear into thin air.

3. The Prestige — bring it back. 

This prologue exemplifies the fascination in "The Prestige" with the mechanics of stage magic and reveals an early glimpse of Nolan's larger obsession with the inner workings of fantastical systems and concepts. Many scenes in "The Prestige" are dedicated to showing rival magicians Robert Danton (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) designing their acts. However, the magicians who taught Jackman and Bale didn't feel as forthcoming about revealing their own tricks.

What the stars learned -- and what they didn't

According to Empire's deep dive into the film, Nolan wanted his leading men to convincingly portray magicians. So he brought in Ricky Jay and Michael Weber, two magicians who specialize in teaching movie stars magic skills. Only, they didn't actually teach all that much. Christian Bale said, "We didn't learn as much as you'd think. In fact, I couldn't show you anything. It was very frustrating." Hugh Jackman succinctly added, "They basically taught us exactly whatever we needed to pull off the shot, and nothing else."

Both stars tried to convince Jay to teach them tricks but to no avail. Thus, the most impressive trick Bale picked up was how to shuffle a deck of cards with one hand. Jackman, on the other hand, had a minor stroke of luck:

"Ricky couldn't be there for the last week of shooting and I needed to do a trick, a very small thing where I produce a flower from my hand. And this young guy came and helped me out, and he was actually an aspiring actor and magic was just a part-time thing, so he was perfect. He told me whatever I wanted to know! So now I do have a few tricks -– I can make a little ball disappear in my hand!"

A magician never tells

While it may have been frustrating for Bale and Jackman, it's understandable why Jay and Weber were so tight-lipped. A magician never reveals their secrets for two very good reasons. One, a magic trick won't amaze people if they know how it's done. As John Cutter (Michael Caine) explains about audiences in the film's open, "You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled."

Second, if a magician's secrets are revealed, then other magicians can copy their tricks. Indeed, the narrative crux of "The Prestige" and its multi-layered flashback of a story is Danton (Jackman) trying to learn the secret of Borden's (Bale) "Transported Man" trick, where he seemingly teleports from one side of the stage to another. The secret of this illusion is also kept from the audience until the end. Normally I wouldn't have reservations about spoiling a 16-year-old movie, but the twist here is so good that I'll stay silent. If you haven't seen "The Prestige," prepare to have your mind blown like mine was.

Bale and Jackman not learning magic tricks to the depth of their satisfaction even recursively reflects the movie in a way. One of the big themes in "The Prestige" is the responsibility of knowledge and its costs. When Danton asks Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) to build him a teleportation device for his own spin on the "The Transported Man" trick, the scientist asks him, "Have you considered the cost?" Not price, cost. Tesla further observes, "Man's grasp exceeds his nerve." That's part of why we want to be fooled; believing the impossible can be easier than accepting reality.