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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The Prince and the Weisenheimer

The Illusionist (2006) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“The Illusionist” takes place, most of it, in Vienna preceding the Great War, when political intrigues were the order of the day. Franz Joseph (1830–1916) is Emperor of Austria after having succeeded Emperor Ferdinand in Dec., 1848. According to historian J.M. Roberts, 1848–9 saw a “gradual restoration of monarchial authority in … Vienna” (358.) Emperor Joseph is now an old man and his son Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) is impatient to inherit his father's throne. He also looks askance at looming democratic ideas for being invasions from “mongrel hordes.”

Nostradamus pictureNewly arrived in Vienna is illusionist Eisenheim (Edward Norton) after having studied abroad in “Russia, Asia Minor, and the Orient many years.” He grew up the son of a cabinet­maker (Andreas Grothusen) in Austria-Hungary. We see him as a youngster Eduard Abramovich (Aaron Johnson) fashioning from wood a locket with a hidden photo of him­self inside, which he gives on the sly to his girl­friend young Sophie von Teschen (Eleanor Tomlinson) whose estate his father works for. It is clear he has skill working in wood. The movie will also portray the sons of a butcher and of a lens grinder, letting us know there are also skills one can acquire to fake wounds and to make optical illusions. Eisenheim puts on such a good show that a rumor circulates he has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for unholy powers. To the movie audience, though, his magic is merely exotic albeit the stage craft good.

Well, one evening the Crown Prince attends his magic performance and when Eisenheim asks for a volunteer from the audience who is not afraid of death, the Crown Prince stands up in the balcony and volunteers his intended, Duchess Sophie Von Teschen (Jessica Biel.) The illusionist and the duchess in turn recognize each other, whom they each still carry a torch for, and the story, of course, will develop like a Shakespeare play. Yes, but which one?


“The Illusionist” serves to illustrate the wise saying, (Eccl. 7:16) “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” The Crown Prince sensing competition and inter­ference exerts political pressure on Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to shut down the illusionist. There is some kind of magicians' code that forbids them from divulging their tricks, but the Chief Inspector is him­self an amateur magician, and as an officer of the law he is obligated to discretion. It is in Eisenheim's best interests to “be not righteous over much,” to divulge a little of his magic craft to the inspector—and let him guess some more—so the cop feels some­what of a confederate with the illusionist and won't be distracted by strange rumors.

As for not “mak[ing] thyself over wise,” the countess is “getting old”—she's pushing thirty—and she and the illusionist don't avoid fornication so much as avoid getting caught. It's time she marry to produce heirs and to become an honest woman. But marry whom? If she wants to marry some­one she's already friends with, her family and the Prince's family have been friends for years. But now she has been reunited with a child­hood friend who is also a possibility, although he's but a commoner.

Mark Twain tells of searching all over for the perfect woman. “And finally I found her,” he says. “Unfortunately, she was searching for the perfect man.” One does not want to make one­self “over wise,” that is to be so particular about whom to marry that the searcher is priced right out of the market. As for the crown prince, Sophie concedes, “It makes a certain sense, I suppose. We've known each other for years, and of course our families——. He's very intelligent.” He's also, regrettably, abusive to women.

1 Corinthians 7Christians sometimes find themselves in an analogous situation. One wants to get married, and looks for potential mates in other Christians. “It makes a certain sense,” some­one who goes to your church and knows the Bible. One would be lowering his or her standards to consider a nonbeliever. In some situations, how­ever, it could be the better option. While we are explicitly commanded to avoid fornication there is no direct commandment to marry only to another Christian; it just makes better sense in most circumstances where one has the option. See Paul's teaching on mixed marriage in 1st Corinthians 7.

Continuing the earlier wise thought, we read, (Eccl. 7:17) “Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?” The Crown Prince is able to get away with slapping women around on his royal estate where the constabulary holds no jurisdiction. The Emperor who does is not going to trouble him­self over bruised females and an occasional corpse. No problemo. But when the Prince plans a coup, that's going a little too far, being “over much wicked.” That gets the Emperor's attention, jeopardizing the Prince's royal head.

It would be foolish for Sophie to be aligned with the Prince when the hammer comes down on him. It would also be foolish for her to spurn the Prince with the hot temper and the long arm. Solving this quandary makes up the lion's share of the plot.

Production Values

” (2006) was directed by Neil Burger who adapted its screenplay from the short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” by Steven Mill­hauser. It stars Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell. The acting was generally good though some­what flat in affect. The supporting cast was excellent.

MPAA rated it PG–13 for some sexuality and violence. The on-site shooting of the movie in the Czech Republic added to its authenticity. The film is beautiful with great sets. The special effects are prize worthy. Music is by Philip Glass and cinema­tog­raphy by Dick Pope. The “orientals” in the movie become the “Asian assistant” in the bowdlerized credits.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie is dark and moody, bordering on spooky. Its lighting is correspondingly dark and facial expressions are grim. The humor at the expense of the prince has predictable consequences. It leads to a Hitch­cockian ending as well as to a Holly­wood one. It would not make a good musical. See it if that suits your taste.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years with guidance. Special effects: First rate special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Roberts, J.M. A History of Europe. Chronology copyright © Helicon Publishing Ltd., 1996. New York: Penguin Press, 1997. Print.