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The Illusionist is a 2006 period drama written and directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, and Paul Giamatti. Based loosely on Steven Millhauser's story "Eisenheim the Illusionist", The Illusionist tells the story of Eisenheim (Norton), a magician in turn-of-the-20th-century Viennamarker.

The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, opened the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival, and was distributed in limited release to theaters on August 18, 2006, eventually expanding nationwide on September 1.

Synopsis

The film begins in medias res as Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Giamatti) recounts the story of Eisenheim for Crown Prince Leopold, following Uhl's visit to the theatre to arrest Eisenheim during what appears to be necromancy passed off as a magic show.

Eisenheim was born the son of a cabinetmaker in Austria-Hungary. One day when he was a teenager, Eisenheim (played as a young man by Aaron Johnson) meets a traveling magician along a road. The magician performs several tricks for him and then, according to various accounts, both the magician and the tree he was sitting under vanish. Eisenheim becomes obsessed with magic tricks after this.

He also falls in love with Sophie, the Duchess von Teschen (Biel, played as a young lady by Eleanor Tomlinson), a noblewoman well above his social class; her parents have hired Eisenheim's father as a cabinetmaker. Young Eisenheim makes Young Sophie a unique marquetry puzzle locket, which if twisted correctly reveals a small, hidden photograph of Eisenheim. Although the two are forbidden to see each other, they meet in a secret hideout chamber in the woods, where Eisenheim tells of his plans to go to China to learn more magic and Sophie promises to go with him. On the day that they are going to leave, however, the police come looking for Sophie. The two hide in the secret room and Sophie begs Eisenheim to make them both disappear. He is unable to fulfill this request and the two are separated. This event has major significance on their future lives and Eisenheim learns a great lesson from it.

Eisenheim leaves his village to travel the world, perfecting his magic. He returns 15 years later as a master illusionist. He meets Sophie at one of his performances, when she is volunteered by the ruthless Crown Prince Leopold as a reluctant participant in a trick. He soon learns that Sophie is expected to marry the Crown Prince, who purportedly has a history of abuse towards women. Eisenheim and Sophie, having recognized each other, meet privately, whereupon it is revealed that Sophie still has the locket he made for her years ago. After humiliating the Crown Prince during a private show, Eisenheim finds his hit performance shut out of Viennamarker. When Sophie comes to offer him help, the two consummate their relationship and realize that they are still in love. They plan to flee the Empire together; but first, Sophie points out, something must be done to stop Leopold, who, she reveals, is planning a coup d'etat to usurp the Crown of Austria from his aging father, the Emperor Franz Joseph I, while using his engagement to her to win the Hungarian half of the Empire as well. She also knows that the Crown Prince will view her as disposable if she leaves him for another man, and that he will have both her and Eisenheim followed and killed in order to protect his ego.

Leopold finds out from Uhl, who was following the couple, that Sophie has met with Eisenheim. While drunk, Leopold confronts Sophie and accuses her of being a whore. She tells him that she will not marry him or have anything to do with his plan. When she attempts to leave, he appears to murder her in the stables with a sword cut across her neck. Unfortunately, Leopold's royal status makes any accusations against him unthinkable, despite an existing belief among the people that Leopold has murdered a woman in the past. As Eisenheim plunges into despair and the citizens of Viennamarker begin to suspect Leopold of Sophie's murder, Uhl observes Eisenheim's actions more closely on behalf of Leopold.

Wracked with grief, Eisenheim prepares a new kind of magic show, using mysterious equipment and Chinese stagehands. Eisenheim purchases a run-down theater and opens a new performance. During his show, Eisenheim apparently summons spirits, leading many to believe that he possesses supernatural powers.

Leopold decides to attend one of Eisenheim's shows in disguise. During this show, Eisenheim summons the spirit of Sophie who says someone in the theater murdered her, panicking Leopold. Uhl pleads with Eisenheim to stop, but Eisenheim refuses. Finally, Leopold orders Eisenheim's arrest, but when Uhl tries to arrest him during a live show, Eisenheim's body fades and disappears like his summoned spirits.

Inspector Uhl first searches for Eisenheim at his house. There he finds a folio labeled "Orange Tree," the name of one of Eisenheim's illusions which had intrigued Uhl. Thinking he will find the solution to one of the magician's most famous tricks, he opens it to find empty pages except for a scrap of parchment showing how to open the locket Eisenheim had given Sophie when they were young.

At this point, we return to the first scene of the movie. Uhl reveals to Leopold that he has found evidence which links the Crown Prince to Sophie's murder: a jewel from the prince's sword and Sophie's locket that Eisenheim gave her when they were children. After ordering, then begging Uhl to keep silent, Leopold discovers that Uhl has already informed the Emperor and the General Staff of Leopold's conspiracy to usurp the Austro-Hungarian throne. As the Army arrives at his Palace to arrest him, Leopold shoots himself in despair after angrily justifying his plans to overthrow his father, saying that there were "a thousand different voices screaming to be heard", and that nothing would get done.

In the next scene, Uhl is shown leaving the Imperial Palace. After he takes a few steps, a boy runs up to hand him a folio labeled "Orange Tree". This time, the "Orange Tree" folio is filled with plans detailing a geared mechanism to make the tree "grow". Uhl demands to know where the child obtained the folio; the child reveals that Eisenheim had given it to him. Uhl then reaches down into his pocket, to discover the Duchess' locket, missing. He realises with a jolt that he has been pick-pocketed by a disguised Eisenheim, and gives chase following him to the train station. After the chase, a montage shows Uhl putting the pieces together and discovering how Eisenheim faked Sophie's death and framed Leopold. Eisenheim is then seen walking up to a house in the country where Sophie is waiting for him.

Cast

Actor Role
Edward Norton Eduard Abramovich aka Eisenheim
Aaron Johnson Young Illusionist (Eduard Eisenheim)
Paul Giamatti Chief Inspector Walter Uhl
Jessica Biel Duchess Sophie von Teschen
Rufus Sewell Crown Prince Leopold
Eddie Marsan Josef Fischer
Jake Wood Jurka
Eleanor Tomlinson Young Sophie


Production

Magic consultancy and technical advice during the production was supplied by Ricky Jay, James Freedman, Michael Weber and Scott Penrose. Director Neil Burger wrote, "Starting in pre-production, James became a major collaborator; brainstorming, designing and refining everything from small sleight of hand tricks to major narrative set pieces. He worked with Edward Norton preparing him for his stage performances and acted as a hand double in various scenes. His contribution was enormous." Aaron Johnson, who plays the teenage Eduard in the beginning of the film, also learned how to do the ball trick seen in those scenes.

The original story on which the movie is based does not include the artifice of the protagonist framing the Duke for murder. The protagonist gets away with a serious crime and yet is made to seem justified in this film.

Although the film is set in Austria, it was filmed mostly in the Czech Republic. The city of Viennamarker is represented in the movie by those of Tábormarker and Praguemarker, while the scenes set in Eisenheim's childhood village were shot in Český Krumlovmarker. The Crown Prince's castle is actually the historical fortress of Konopištěmarker (located near Benešovmarker), formerly the home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The front gates of Leopold's Vienna palace were actually the front gates of Prague Castlemarker. All other shots were at Barrandov Studiosmarker in Prague.

Reception

As of June 29, 2008 the film has earned worldwide box office receipts of $87,892,388, including $39,868,642 in the United States, beating its $17 million budget. Since it has been released on DVD, it has earned another $35.99 millionin rental revenue (as of May 6, 2007).

The Illusionist received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes classified it as 75% "certified fresh" with 173 reviews (as of September 17, 2008). Jonathan Rosenbaum's review in The Chicago Reader praised Paul Giamatti's performance of "a character who feels sympathy for the magician but owes allegiance to Leopold and is therefore divided and compromised ... Giamatti’s performance is subtle, expressive, and richly nuanced." Stephen Holden, in his review for The New York Times, praised Edward Norton's role, which, according to him, "perfectly fits his disturbing inscrutability". Variety wrote that Jessica Biel "is entirely stunning enough to fight to the death over."

Director of Photography Dick Pope earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Historical link

Eisenheim's portrait of the Emperor (the Crown Prince's father) seen in the palace performance scene closely relates with that of Franz Joseph I of Austria. The character Leopold closely resembles Crown Prince Rudolph, who committed suicide after killing his mistress. This incident caused an international scandal and has attracted much subsequent conjecture.

After Rudolph's death, Franz Joseph's nephew became Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Franz Ferdinand was later assassinated on 28 June 1914marker, triggering the First World War.

See also



References

  1. [1]
  2. Writer director Neil Burger mentions this in the DVD commentary.
  3. The Illusionist (2006)
  4. The Illusionist (2006) - DVD / Home Video Rentals
  5. The Illusionist - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  6. Chicago Reader: Movie Reviews
  7. The Illusionist - Movie - Review - New York Times
  8. The Illusionist Review - Film Reviews-Sundance 2006, Entertainment - Variety


External links




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