"Nothing is what it seems."
A 2006 Period Drama
loosely based on Steven Millhauser's story "Eisenheim the Illusionist".The Illusionist
tells the story of Eisenheim, a magician in Vienna in the late 1800's and the childhood promise he made to a girl that someday, they would both disappear. The film begins near its climax and most of the film takes place in a Flash Back
No relation to the 2010 animated film
This film provides examples of:
- Alas, Poor Villain: While the Crown Prince without doubt is a jerkass, the ending lets you wonder whether he really was so evil as he was made out to be, especially because it is revealed that his motive for preparing a coup was not mere selfishness and lust for power, but his sincere belief that his father was unable to lead the Empire into the future. Did he really deserve to be framed for a murder that not only did he not commit, never even happened in the first place?
- He did kill a woman before.
- All There in the Manual: While Eisenheim's tricks may seem like a simple Hand Wave of reality for the sake of drama, all of them actually have very clear explanations — but only in the DVD commentary tracks.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Eisenheim, aka Eduard Abramowitz, has a Jewish surname, and is a stage magician in the early twentieth century. If so, it adds another reason why he and Sophie aren't allowed to be together.
- Arc Words: A series of them are fired off in a montage at the end of the movie, giving context to everything that was said earlier which takes on a new meaning when the truth is exposed at the end. The most significant being when Eisenheim says in front of Uhl, "Everything you have seen is an illusion."
- Artistic License – Geography: Sophie is the Duchess of Teschen, and the Crown Prince is planning to marry her so that he can improve his claim to the Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary. However, Teschen was actually a Czech state populated by Poles and ruled by an Austrian noble family in the Austrian half of the Empire... the only connection with Hungary was that it lay across the border from them. At least geographically; it's possible that such a move might have been shore up dynastic and political affiliations with people tied to that territory/title, but the movie doesn't explain it.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: In the climax of the movie, Leopold commited suicide, when the only thing between him and the troopers that were going to take him prisoner was just a weak door.
- Black and Gray Morality: The "villain" is an obnoxious, possibly murderous, misogynistic asshole planning a coup d'etat. The hero is noble, but very extreme in the methods that he uses to get what he wants, up to and including framing the villain for a murder he didn't commit (driving him to suicide) and getting the only really moral character in the film kicked out of his job as chief police inspector.
- Broken Pedestal: The people's reaction to Eisenheim when he told them (under threat of going to jail for fraud) that he was not really summoning spirits back to life, that it was all a trick. They should have known, but still...
- California Doubling: 19th century Vienna was shot in present day Czech Republic.
- Cassandra Truth: "He's planted everything!" "You're drunk."
- Chekhov's Gunman: The man seen with Eisenheim at the train station.
- Chekhov's Gun: There are many: the locket, the orange tree, the sword, and many minor ones.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Eisenheim and his duchess grew up together and are implied to have made a Childhood Marriage Promise.
- Childhood Marriage Promise: Implied with the locket.
- Conspicuous Trenchcoat: Sophie is followed everywhere "for her protection." Eisenheim uses this to his advantage.
- Driven to Suicide: The prince does this after he runs up against both his personal and political problems.
- The Ending Changes Everything: Sophie is not really dead. Things were arranged to seem as if Leopold had killed her (even for himself, by making him drunk at the moment of the purported homicide), and he commited suicide before being jailed... for a crime that he did not commit.
- Establishing Character Moment: Early in the film Eisenheim runs into a group of street urchins. Instead of simply giving them some money, which he's certainly capable of, he instead gives most of them one coin each with a slight-of-hand trick — except the last one, who he gives an empty handkerchief... Before raining coins down from his empty hands on the last boy and his fellows. This establishes him as a trickster, but a generous and gentle one.
- Eureka Moment: The inspector figures out what's really going on, complete with montage of all the key moments from the film, just too late to do anything about it.
- Faking the Dead: Sophie, complete with a very convincing temporary Faux Death.
- Gambit Roulette: The big plan of Eisenheim was successful, and he could escape with Sophie, with nobody hunting them, as it would happen if they simply run away with no master plan. Still, many things could have gone wrong with it.
- What if Uhl checked the stables immediately (as he was about to do), and not some days later?
- What if the family doctor was a bit more competent and realized that something was wrong?
- the "Family Doctor" was revealed to be Eisenheim's disguised confidant during the finale when Uhl flashes back and remembers seeing him talking to Eisenheim at the train station.
- What if the family decided to bury the corpse at a deep tomb, or worse, cremate it?
- What if Leopold did not attend that specific night's show?
- What if Uhl was not such a By-the-Book Cop and actually detained Eisenheim for some phony reason, as Leopold had ordered?
- What if Uhl could get Eisenheim before he took the train, or get to the train as well before it left?
- How We Got Here: Most of the movie is actually Inspector Uhl's narration of how he ended up in the Prince's study, slightly late.
- Inspector Javert: Inspector Uhl is a cross between this and an Obstructive Bureaucrat. In the end, he's revealed as one of the few truly moral characters in the film.
- Magicians Are Wizards: While The Prestige justified its use of this trope, this film handwaves it. Though methods existed for all his tricks, you never learn about them without the DVD commentary.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Until The Reveal, it is deliberately ambiguous whether Eisenheim does tricks or really has powers. It turns out that he does tricks.
- Master of Illusion: Eisenheim uses all sorts of ingenious devices and tricks to fool his audience.
- Not So Different: Uhl attempts to convince Eisenheim to trust him by relating that he is not the member of the social elite Eisenheim thinks he is, but in fact shares a similar, humble background.
Uhl: Yes, indeed, they say that I'm very close to the Prince. But the simple truth of the matter is, Herr Eisenheim, I'm the son of a butcher. He's the heir to the Empire. How close could we be to such as him, Hmm? Do you see my point? Don't fool yourself that you can play in their game. I've served on the edge of it for many, many years and I can tell you with certainty there's no trick they haven't seen. It's not worth it.
- Not What It Looks Like: Invoked and inverted in-story not by The Protagonist, but by the man investigating him, of all things; who tells the protagonist that he's prepared to investigate "a discreet carriage ride" with the Duchess (and future empress) not as what it looked like (a sexual encounter), "but what it actually is." (As it turns out, a conversation between childhood friends.)
- Offstage Villainy: We are told the prince is violent towards women and a cruel manipulator, but never see it. What we do see is him backhand Sophie and be generally unpleasant. He's also planning a coup d’état.
- Pet the Dog: Eisenheim, after his first successful show, playfully and quietly giving a windfall of coins to a few urchins.
- Prince Charmless: The prince is established early on to beat women.
- Rebellious Princess: A duchess who wants desperately to run away with Edward despite the fact that he's the lowborn son of a cabinetmaker.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: At the end, the crown prince tries to bribe the inspector, inviting him to say what he wants. The inspector replies that he doesn't want anything the crown prince can offer.
- Shadow Archetype: Eisenheim and the prince are this to each other. Both are well-intentioned extremists in love with Sophie who did what they had to do in order to get what they wanted. Eisenheim frames an innocent man for murder, while the prince is a drunk and a wife beater who is planning a coup because he genuinely thinks it's better for the country.
- "Shut Up" Kiss: Eisenheim to Sophie.
- Stage Magician: Eisenheim's job is this sort of performance.
- Surrounded by Idiots: In-universe, this is the prince's general attitude. If someone can't accomplish what he tells them to — even if it's impossible — clearly they "can't be relied on."
- Take That, Audience!: In-Universe, Eisenheim was forced to this. Threatened to be detained for fraud, and with criminal charges increased if the mob outside attacked the building, he rushed to the balcony, to talk to his fans. And he destroyed their Willing Suspension of Disbelief by clarifying that he had no special powers and he can not summon the spirits of the dead. That everything the people had seen at the theater was an illusion, a trick. There it is, now there's no "fraud", the police can not detain him for that.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: The son plans to overthrow his father because he thinks the "old man" can't properly lead the Empire into the future.
- Whodunnit to Me: Sophie's ghostly appearances at Eisenheim's shows seems to be trying to get the public to figure this one out.
- Worthy Opponent: Eisenheim and Uhl. The feeling is mutual, as shown when Eisenheim leaves Uhl the notes of his Orange Tree trick, and Uhl's laughter at the end when he realizes how Eisenheim tricked everyone, including himself.
- Would Hit a Girl: The prince often does if the rumors about him beating his previous girlfriends are true.