Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nothing is What It Seems

The Illusionist (2006) is one of few rare movies I have watched recently that had me intrigued, guessing and trying to figure out the outcome of the story until the end.

It is a period movie set in the early 20th century in Vienna. The props and sets were beautiful. It is a romance, with a twist in the plot (I love those) and had me wondering what is real and what is not.

Eisenheim (Edward Norton), the Illusionist was the son of a cabinetmaker who fell in love with a Duchness Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel) when they were children. They were separated because of their different stations in life. Eisenheim left to explore the world and to learn the art of illusion. 15 years later Eisenheim came to Vienna and started a magician show. There he met Sophia who is about to marry evil Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). The prince was plotting to overthrow his father, the Emperor and takes the throne. Love was rekindled and Eisenheim need to get rid of the Crown Prince if he and Sophia were to have a normal life. Eisenheim subsequently came to a faceoff with chief police inspector (Paul Giamatti) who was the prince's henchman.

The way Eisenheim's plan work is full of illusion, deception, manipulation and magic, making the prince's police inspector work against him. The line is blurred between illusion and magic... reality and fantasy...power and helplessness. The movie-line is a complex plot for two lovers to escape their social destinies.

Burger, the producer conducted extensive research into magic, as well as the setting of the story: fin-de-siècle Vienna. "I read everything I could about the Hapsburgs, about the Secessionist movement, and about the magic from that time-both the illusions themselves and the social world of the magicians. Most of the tricks that ended up in the film are based on real illusions done at the time, and the characters I invented are also based on real people. I wanted it all to be as believable and honest as possible, all the more so since the story examines the idea of how we perceive truth and illusion...and blurs the boundary between those two concepts. If you're going to exaggerate certain elements, to have it be dreamlike or surreal or uncanny, you have to make sure that the rest of it has a rock solid foundation in the period." read more.

Good movie to watch with children but be prepared to have to explain to them how the many illusions work. On the other hand, with the many special effects in movies nowadays, don't bother.


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Anonymous alwyn said...

good show, except the 'spirits' trick seemed a little overly high-tech for the 19th cent, no? ;>)

11:08 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Ho alwyn,

donno. Personally I believe that similar tricks has been done by illusionists throughout the ages.

I guess in the movie, we are so used to Hollywood computer graphics that we tend to dismiss them. You are right that the first thing that came to my mind when I saw it on screen is a hologram :) Just show we are a creature of our times, doesn't it.

9:47 AM  

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