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


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Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 David Oranchak
    7. Januar 2018

    According to this reddit thread, part of it is ROT 23 but then it breaks down:

  2. #2 Rich SantaColoma
    7. Januar 2018

    In the original book the movie is based on, by Christopher Priest, the notebook is not enciphered.

    So I looked up the screenplay for the movie, by Christopher Nolan, and found this description of the cipher:

    “A cypher. An enigma…”, with the scene description,

    CUT TO:

    Later, page 10, the character Angier says,

    “…Borden’s cypher is simple-
    unraveled by a single word. Now it
    takes only patience. And a passion
    to know his mind.”

    Page 31,

    “It’s a rotating transposition that
    shifts every day of the dairy. Simple
    but time-consuming to translate once
    you have the five-letter keyword.”

    Of course that is just the screenplay, and whether or not the system that was used in the prop book reflects the screenplay, or any real cipher is another matter.

  3. #3 Ralf Bülow
    8. Januar 2018

    BTW Last night was the 75th anniversary of Nikola Tesla’s death in the New York hotel where he lived. Could ? This ? Be ? A ? Coincidence ?

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    8. Januar 2018

    Aaron Toponce via Facebook:
    I’ve looked into this. If I remember correctly, the director used a Caesar shift in one of the scenes, but ended up making a ton of mistakes. Rather than continue the work, I think he just decided to write gibberish for the other scenes.

    However, since watching it, I’ve wondered how you could do a relatively secure encrypted journal by hand(against your spouse or snoop, but not state adversaries).

    I think your best bet would be an autokey Vigenère with a very long starting key. You would need some way to maintain state securely (where did I leave off, where am I in the autokey), but I think it’s your best bet.

  5. #5 Breaker
    12. Januar 2018

    The Pic (Here’s the last scene, in which the encrypted journal is shown (1:11:27):) is masking two elements of a known series of mysteries from an island that has a series of rocks shaped like the “Tree of Life”, and the Tunnels of the Money Pit found on Oak Island…..LOL

    Imagine the “Prestige” from the discovery of it…..