In the 2006 British-American mystery thriller “The Prestige” a stage magician keeps an encrypted journal. Some passages of it can be seen in the movie. Is it possible to decipher them?
What do the movies Enigma, The Imitation Game, Wind Talkers and Mercury Rising have in common? In all of them cryptography plays a role. Other films involving encryption are U-571, Sneakers, and the Zodiac Killer movies Zodiac (2007), The Zodiac (2005), and Awakeing the Zodiac (2017).
A prestigious journal
Yesterday I happened to watch the movie The Prestige (2006), which is about two stage magicians in the late 19th century, who start a deadly rivalry. I enjoyed this film very well, although I sometimes had difficulties to follow the plot. Apparently, I am not the only one who had this problem. There are several web pages explaining plot details of this film, like this one, which explains the end.
Several stage magicians, especially Houdini, James Randi, and Wolfgang Hund, played an important role in the development of the skeptic movement. So The Prestige is certainly interesting for everybody interested in scientific scepticism (like me), although this topic does not play much of a role in the plot.
To my big surprise, The Prestige does involve some cryptography. One of the two stage magicians, a man named Alfred Borden, keeps an encrypted journal that allegedly explains some of his magic tricks. Excerpts from this journal can be seen several times during the movie. Here’s the first shot (8:07):
Here’s another page (40:35):
Here’s the next one (41:41):
Yet another one (46:55):
Here’s the last scene, in which the encrypted journal is shown (1:11:27):
Finally, the viewer learns the key word that was used to encrypt the journal (1:17:07):
Can it be decrypted?
In the film it is not explained how the decryption of the journal works. Of course, it is far from clear that the journal excerpts shown in this article can be decrypted – perhaps, the cryptic letter sequences don’t have a meaning at all.
On the other hand, it is well possible that the makers of The Prestige created a real encrypted text for their movie and that this text can be broken. If so, the screenshots I have provided might contain enough encrypted text for the cipher to be broken. In addition, we even know the key word TESLA.
What do you think? Is it possible to break this cryptogram?
Further reading: The Zodiac Killer code is solved – at least in this new movie