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The Illusionist

Nothing is what it seems 

Year: 2006 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from The Illusionist

Director: Neil Burger

Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell

Based on a short story, Eisenheim the Illusionist by Steven Millhauser, The Illusionist is a captivating tale encompassing an intriguing mix of magic, romance, politics and murder. The film tells the story of Eisenheim (Norton), a magician who as a child met an enigmatic travelling illusionist who inspired the young boy to begin practicing magic himself. He soon becomes a master conjuror, the film beginning in the middle of the narrative, with Eisenheim enthralling a large audience with his both magical and paranormal demonstrations.

Despite the title of the film, the focus of the narrative is not primarily the magic, but the romance between Eisenheim and his childhood sweetheart Sophie (Biel). As teenagers, the couple were separated due to Sophie’s high social status preventing her from associating with the likes of the young working class magician. Upon their reunion it is apparent that these social barriers are still very much in place, particularly when Eisenheim learns that Sophie is to marry the pompous, conceited crown prince Leopold (Sewell). Will Eisenheim’s extraordinary skills be enough to win back the love that he had yearned for since his youth?

The Illusionist is a beautifully shot, intricately told story that relies on aesthetics and style rather than a high action, dramatic plot. The sepia tinting of the 19th century Vienna makes each shot look like an old photograph, giving a strikingly nostalgic feel to the film. The visual aspects of the film correspond well with the narrative’s touching story of a man determined to win back a love he lost years ago because of the restrictions of his social status.

The film offers a unique performance from Edward Norton in a more understated, peculiar and altogether completely different role from his previous films such as Red Dragon, Fight Club and American History X. The supporting actors including Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell all contribute powerful performances which along with the potent dialogue create the suspense and drive the narrative of the film. The pace of the film is generally quite slow, but his allows for a well though out and elaborate development of events. The plot becomes more intense as it introduces ideas of the paranormal and remarkable twist at the end provides a breathtaking conclusion to this intelligent, enchanting film.

Amy Flinders

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Screenings of this film:

2006/2007 Summer Term (35mm)
2006/2007 Summer Term (35mm)