An elegant story of art, affairs, and politics, The Illusionist is a tale about magic and true love. Set in early 20th century Vienna, a magician uses his abilities to secure the love of a woman far above his social standing. Writer and director Neil Burger elegantly directs this piece based off of the short story Eisenheim the Illusionist by Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser. The Illusionist is a true love story of smoke and mirrors and intelligently intrigues and allures the viewer. Although the categories magic and romance do not tie together very well, The Illusionist interlaces these two genres into a beautifully written and performed period piece. The film begins as Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) recounts the history of Eisenheim for the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). This follows Uhl's visit to the theatre to arrest Eisenheim during what appears to be necromancy passed off as a magic show. The movie follows this account in a flashback. Edward Norton plays Eduard Abramovich, a poor cabinetmakers son who loves magic. He falls in love with a beautiful girl, Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), from a social class far above his own. The children spark a connection and immediately begin spending time with each other. Eduard 2
crafts a special locket for Sophie, leaving a picture of him on the inside. They meet secretly in a cabin in the woods where Eduard tells of his plans to to travel and learn more magic and Sophie promises to go with him. However, after the girls’ parents force them apart and forbid the two to see each other, Eduard vanishes. Fifteen years later he reappears in Vienna as Eisenheim the Illusionist, playing too sold out crowds and astonishing audiences with his magic. When the Crown Prince Leopold hears of the illusionist’s renowned reputation he attends one of the shows. When Eisenheim asks the audience for a participant for in trick, the ruthless Prince Leopold volunteers a woman, Duchess von Teschen. Eisenheim immediately recognizes Sophie the moment she steps on stage; however it takes the Duchess a second to recognize her long lost childhood friend. The next day the two meet on a private carriage ride around city where it is revealed that Sophie is unwillingly engaged to the Crown Prince, who purportedly has a history of violence towards women; such as pushing one off a balcony. It is also revealed that Sophie still wears the locket Eisenheim made her when they were kids.
Eisenheim’s very presence seems to offend the Crown Prince and is not one to be trifled with. Jealous of the illusionist’s fame and respectable 3
reputation, Leopold offers the magician a private show in order to exploit his tricks as fraud. However, after Eisenheim humiliates Leopold, the furious Prince orders his lapdog, Chief Inspector Uhl to shut down Eisenheim’s performances for good. Inspector Uhl, an amateur magician and a man respectful of Eisenheim’s work, warns the illusionist of the Crown Prince’s plan to ruin his reputation and his career. When Sophie comes to Eisenheim to offer him help, the two at first fight, but after Eisenheim kisses her the two realize they are still in love with each other from their childhood. They plan to flee the Empire together; but first Sophie points out that something must be done to stop Leopold, who, she reveals, is planning a coup d’état to seize the Crown of Austria from his aging father, the Emperor Franz Joseph I. She explains that Leopold is only using their engagement as a tactic 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.
Inspector Uhl, who had been following the Duchess, reports to Crown Prince Leopold of the couple’s interactions. Leopold confronts Sophie in the palace and accuses her of being a whore....