The Illusionist, a 2006 film, goes back to the end of 16th Century in Vienna, Austria where a popular conjurer called Eisenheim The Illusionist has recently been arrested on the charges of disturbing public order, charlatanism, and threats against the empire. We recognize our hero and it he who reduces not only his stage audience, but also me at my laptop, to tears.
The movie follows Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) who is tracing out the history of Eisenheim (Edward Norton) and his childhood love Duchess Sophie Von Teschan, to the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Prince Leopold is betrothed to Duchess Von Teschan and accuses Eisenheim of necromancy to stage magic shows for the masses. Sophie and Eisenheim resume their acquaintance which greatly pleases the proud aristocrat.
After Sophie mysteriously dies (with the chief suspect being the Prince himself), Leopold is very determined to prove Eisenheim’s charlatan nature. But public opinion is against him and rightly so; Leopold is not a good ruler or man. We follow Inspector Uhl as he tries to figure out the truth behind Sophie’s death, Eisenheim’s nature and he is very close to making allegations against the crown prince himself. As Eisenheim himself says during the story, “Everything you have seen here has been an illusion”, and we know nothing about what is true and what are lies.
Directed by Neil Burger, the script is loosely based on the short story, “The Illusionist” by Steve Milhauser. The movie switches constantly between the sepia of the flashbacks, the rigid colours of the Vienna streets and the vividness of aristocracy and magic. The Director of Photography, Dick Pope seems to make the film glow, swivel and fade away and it is the production that has made the magic come alive in the film. Edward Norton, who is a downright Mr.Darcy, wonderfully portrays the broodingly intense Eisenheim. Jessica Biel, who starred in 7th Heaven, an American television series, also proved herself as a serious actress. Paul Giamatti of the John Adams fame plays Inspector Uhl, a bewildered man who serves chiefly as our narrator. Rufus Sewell makes for an evil Prince who wields his power to get whatever he wants.
The whole story is woven in a fairy-tale-like manner and the dialogues are simply ripping. No one knows what Eisenheim is up to, but we feel his anguish, a lover’s anguish for Sophie. We see her arising from the dead and feel a small lump in our throats when we see the look they share. We see Leopold’s deception, his jealousy and his role as an evil usurper. And then there is Inspector Uhl who we sympathise with, and, in the end, he is the one who figures the jigsaw out.
Why do I cry every time I watch The Illusionist?
Well, I’ve seen it about ten times already and every time, I see the hope and the love. It is not a stupid rom-com or chick flick but a true fairy-tale which shows the best of storytelling in cinema. It is about magic, dreams and innocence and in the end; we realize that everything is indeed an illusion.