The Prestige opens with magician Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) being sentenced for the murder of competitor Robert Angiers (Hugh Jackman). The film then rewinds, starting off when the two men were assistants to another stage magician in London. Both men want to make it big in 19th century England, and when Angiers' wife dies accidentally during a trick it sets up a blood feud that never dies as each man tries to outdo the other.
Angiers sets off the powder keg by slipping a bullet into an empty gun for a bullet catch trick, blasting off two of Borden's fingers. Borden comes to one of Angiers' shows and destroys a victimless bird cage trick, maiming another audience member and nearly sinking Angiers' career. Borden begins doing a trick called "The Transported Man," where he seems to vanish from one box and appear instantly in another. Angiers finds a double to duplicate the illusion, but becomes a laughing stock when he's outed.
In retaliation, Angiers kidnaps Borden's manager and ingenieur Fallon and forces Borden to hand over the cipher to his stolen diary where Angiers believes the secret is hidden. The translation sends him to Colorado and to mad genius Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). Tesla builds Angiers a machine that clones him and makes another man. Angiers then does the Transported Man, where the man in the machine drops into a water tank under the stage and drowns. Borden is framed for killing Angiers, who vanishes and become Lord Caldlow. "Caldlow" adopts Borden's daughter Jess, and holds her well being over Borden to make him give up his tricks. Borden does, but asks Fallon to take care of his daughter.
Angiers goes to the warehouse where he kept all his duplicates, where he's confronted by Borden. An impossibility, since Borden has been hanged. The true secret of the Transported Man is that Borden was a set of identical twins who dedicated their lives to the illusion they were one man.