The Illusion

Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. 

-James 1:15


Everyone loves a good magic trick. To see something ordinary turn into something surreal. The film The Prestige plays to this desire for mystery. Michael Caine’s character is even quoted as saying, “You want to be fooled.”

The story of the film follows two rival magicians in late-19th Century London, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). Co-workers in their early days, the two become bitter enemies after a tragic accident leads to the death of their assistant, and wife of Angier. The two men become obsessed with each other, leading them both down paths of no return in a relentless desire for revenge.

Without spoiling the ending, I will say the spiritual parallel was clear, although perhaps not intended. One conversation between Angier and his esteemed employee, Nikola Tesla, gets to the heart of the film’s theme:

TESLA: Go home. Forget this thing. I can recognize an obsession. No good will come of it.

ANGIER: Why, hasn’t good come from your obsessions?

TESLA: Well, at first. But I followed them too long. Now I’m their slave…and one day they’ll choose to destroy me.

This is the story of every human heart. We are all obsessed with something. There is something in us which desires more. But more of what? Ultimately, more of ourselves. These two men were driven by their own desires. Their own pride. They let their selfish desires lead to one destructive decision after another, disregarding all consequences, until it led to their inevitable demise. The outsider would say they were consumed with each other, when in reality they were consumed with themselves. And, ultimately, what is sin but being consumed with oneself?

The Prestige is a story of man’s sinful heart. It is an allegory of James 1:15.


Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin… 

The evil of Angier and Borden was birthed in their own hearts. It was conceived by a desire to reign supreme as the better magician. As the better man. Being the best performer in London wasn’t enough. Their rival had to suffer. They both felt wronged and betrayed, and they would right their own lives.

We often stop and wonder at the evil and darkness in the world. “Where does it come from?” we ask. “Who could do such things?” We often behave as if evil is some separate entity that has descended upon us. A cloud that has settled in our midst. However, the evil that we despair of, the evil that haunts our lives, is not a separate being or force that has preyed upon humankind. It is within us. We are the evil.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

            -Psalm 51:5

Then He said, “What comes out of a person—that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.

            -Mark 7:20-23

To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.

            -Titus 1:15-16

Evil is here because we are here. In the creation account of Genesis 1, evil is nowhere to be found when God gave life to the universe. Evil is introduced two chapters later, when man chose his own path – the path of rebellion against his Creator. And ever since that day, mankind is in search of one thing, and that is to please his own evil desires. No human being outside of Christ can honestly claim to care absolutely about anything else.

But why do we follow the evil in our hearts? Because it offers an illusion.

In The Prestige, Michael Caine explains that there are three parts to a good magic trick. First, there is “The Pledge,” where the magician shows the audience an ordinary object. Secondly, there is “The Turn.” Here, the magician takes an ordinary object and does something extraordinary with it. Finally, there is “The Prestige.” This final part is what sells the trick. Caine says, “making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back.”

Sin has sold mankind a powerful illusion. The pledge is something so simple and ordinary: a relationship, a career, a possession, or in the case of Genesis 3, a piece of fruit. Ordinary things that are not evil in and of themselves.

Then sin cunningly moves to “The Turn.” It takes the ordinary object, that piece of creation that has caught your attention, and it makes appear as though it was extraordinary. This was what your heart has been searching for. This was why you were made. Everything you’ve ever dreamed of has finally been found, because of this.


…and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.

Everyone in this film followed their selfish desires to their inevitable ends. Tesla himself admitted his own path. He followed his obsessions far too long, and they would eventually destroy him.

Now comes the dirty part of the trick. You see, sin has no prestige. No third act. That is the trick. That’s the illusion. Sin takes something away, never to return. It only leaves behind a hole, an unquenchable thirst, an unshakable desire. You have now become its slave…and one day it will choose to destroy you.

And all of mankind has fallen into this slavery.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

            -John 8:34

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

            -2 Peter 2:19

For the wages of sin is death…

            -Romans 6:23a


A New Creation

But I agree with Michael Caine. “Making something disappear isn’t good enough. You have to bring it back.” What has sin taken from us? It has taken our identity, our freedom, our very lives. Sin steals everything from us. Sin is the most accomplished thief in the history of the universe. It can take everything from you, and it has. Ultimately, sin can and will destroy you, for that is its end goal.

But how do we get back? How do we get our identity back? Our freedom? Our lives? As Paul writes in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

            -Ephesians 2:1-5

As stated before, we are slaves to our sin. We have been fooled by its illusion. Therefore, it follows that we can only be set free by someone who is not a slave. We can only see the truth if we are shown by someone who is not fooled. But because all of mankind has been fooled into slavery, we must look outside of ourselves.

Enter the Christ.

God created the world, and it was good. And he created man and placed him in the garden, along with his helper the woman. Man and woman were deceived and chose to disobey what God had commanded them. Their disobedience locked them into spiritual chains that would drag them to their death, along with every man and woman who would follow.

The only way to beat sin, to beat death, is to kill it.  This is what Christ has done. He has killed death. By doing that, He has killed you and me. He has made us “disappear.” However, Christ does have a prestige, and it is called grace. Not only does Christ kill sin and death, He has brought us life.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

            -2 Corinthians 5:17




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