To set up his ultimate act of revenge in The Prestige, Angier (played by Hugh Jackman) asks his ingenue Cutter (Michael Caine) to help him book a spectacular venue for Angier's new magic show, which features the trick in which Angier disappears from the stage and reappears at the top rear of the theater.

Cutter arranges a demonstration of the trick with a powerful man named Ackerman, whose attitude suggests he's seen lots of magic and is very hard to impress. Upon seeing the demonstration, however, Ackerman clearly is blown away -- he seems to grasp immediately that the trick is not just slight-of-hand but is somehow real:

ACKERMAN (quiet, haunted): Pardon me. It's very rare to see... real magic. it's been many years since I've seen...

How did Ackerman know that what he had just seen was not just a trick but "real magic"? (It seems unlikely the transporting trick by itself would be so impressive and novel to an expert like Ackerman, as Angier's rival Borden had been become quite famous performing a similar trick right there in London.)

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    I just understood it more as a mere compliment (i.e. "real" magic being good magic, as in not to distinguish from reality) rather than him literally calling it "real".
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 18:29
  • I understood it was Ackerman actually figuring out that it must be achieved via a real effect. In the same scene he also says "We'll have to dress it up a little. Disguise it. Give them enough reason to doubt it". So he realizes it's real and therefore 'too good to be true', which is not what the audience actually wants when they see a magic show. This is a recurring theme of the movie - even Angier says his audience would be horrified if they thought it wasn't just illusions.
    – Morty
    Commented Jul 16, 2021 at 21:24

3 Answers 3


The art of magic, in the sense of performance and stagecraft, is really a sort of science. Magicians can usually figure out how a trick is done, and even when they can't grasp all of the specifics, they can generally gauge that it is a trick.

The "impossible trick" is a theme in the movie. Borden's transportation is impossible. (Unless, that is, you realize he has a twin.) The trick is specifically set up to seem impossible.

Even after Angier replicates the trick, he is unsatisfied because he recognizes it's not as sophisticated as what Borden is doing in terms of actual "transportation". Angier's version is a mere illusion; Borden's appears real.

This drives Angier to seek out "mad" scientist Nicola Tesla, a man who legitimately, in real life, created many of the technological wonders of his age.

There is an irony in that Tesla actually figures out how to do it! (Although his version involves replication a opposed to mere transportation, it is, for all intents and purposes, real magic, scientific foundation notwithstanding.)

There is no concrete "aha" moment for Angier. It's more a process of not being able to figure out how the trick is done.

This final point is confirmed by the twist ending, where Angier finally figures it out only when he is shot by the surviving Borden twin. He literally didn't see that one coming.

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    These elaborations, while interesting, don't really seem to adress the actual question that much. You might want to point out more how Ackerman actualy recognized Angiers trick as "real magic", which is hard finder under all the fluff.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 10:59
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    My feeling was one sort of needs to understand something about the stagecraft element of "magic" to get to the answer of there being no "aha" moment.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 18:04
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    I agree with @DukeZhou. I think the question opens itself up to philosophical anaylisis between the science of stagecraft, debate in what constitutes 'real magic' in theater/entertianment context, which lends itself to one's ( characters in this case) own subjective interpretation of something coming off more magical than another. It's not to say there couldn't be a more substantual reason of knowledge, but I think this is a good start. Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 18:05

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." - Hamlet

The answer to this question lies in Tesla's comment about "man's reach exceeding his grasp" and his warnings to Angier about continuing down his path. Angier wanted genuine "magic" as opposed to illusion, the trade he had dedicated himself to.

Ackerman's comment about "real magic" and his consternation at seeing the trick performed alludes to the film's universe containing other "wizards" such as Tesla who are capable of actually doing what the magicians pretend to do- something Ackerman was acquainted with and had witnessed firsthand.

What the other "wizards" had shown him and what that "real magic" consisted of remains a mystery to the audience (and likely the writers as well), but it is the mere suggestion of it that lends power to the exchange: from a narrative perspective the interaction serves to show that Angier was a mediocre magician who literally had to find a genuine flesh and blood wizard to accomplish what his rival was able to accomplish by simply existing.


Looking at Ackerman's face, we see he glances to his left, as if he is remembering something. Then Angier interrupts him and Ackerman returns the focus of his gaze center, to look at Angier. Ackerman is pretty obviously thinking about something when he says this line.

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