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The Illusionist, 2006

The Illusionist, 2006

The Illusionist is a 2006 American romantic mystery film written and directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel.

The Illusionist is a 2006 American romantic mystery film written and directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel. It is based loosely on Steven Millhauser's short story "Eisenheim the Illusionist". The film tells the story of Eisenheim, a magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna, who reunites with his childhood love, a woman far above his social standing. The film also depicts a fictionalized version of the Mayerling incident.

The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and opened the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival; it was distributed in limited release to theaters on August 18, 2006, and expanded nationwide on September 1. The film was a commercial and critical success.


In Vienna, Austria-Hungary, 1889, a magician named Eisenheim is arrested by Chief Inspector Walter Uhl of the Vienna Police during a magic show involving necromancy. Later, Uhl explains the story of Eisenheim's life to Crown Prince Leopold.

Eisenheim was born to a cabinet-maker and became interested in magic. He fell in love with Sophie, the Duchess von Teschen, but the two were forbidden to see each other on account of the former being a peasant. They kept meeting secretly but were caught and separated by force. Eisenheim studied magic by travelling the world, and fifteen years later, returned to Vienna to perform. During one performance, he encounters the adult Sophie and learns that she is expected to marry the Crown Prince Leopold, who, it is rumored, is brutal towards women and even murdered one. Leopold invites Eisenheim to conduct a private performance at the palace. During the performance, Eisenheim humiliates the Crown Prince in front of the royal guests; in response, he is banned from performing again in Vienna. When Sophie comes to offer him help, they make love. Eisenheim asks her to flee with him, but she is afraid that they will be executed. She reveals that the Crown Prince is planning a coup d'état against his elderly father, the Emperor Franz Joseph I.

At the Mayerling hunting lodge, Sophie tries to end her engagement with Leopold. Her body is discovered the next morning in the Vienna Woods, an unknown man blamed. This throws Eisenheim into depression. He buys a theatre and begins a new series of magic shows, this time focusing on the summoning of dead spirits. Leopold secretly attends one, during which Eisenheim summons the spirit of Sophie, who says that someone in the theater is her murderer. Leopold, unnerved, orders Uhl to arrest Eisenheim for fraud, but Eisenheim avoids jail by confessing to the public that his show is an illusion.

Eisenheim is threatened that if he summons Sophie in his next performance, he will be imprisoned. Uhl attends the performance, and in spite of the warnings, Eisenheim summons Sophie again. Uhl storms the stage with his officers, but to the shock of the audience, Eisenheim is revealed to be a spirit when Uhl's hand passes through him.

Uhl reveals to Leopold that he has found evidence—a jewel from Leopold's sword and Sophie's locket—which could implicate Leopold in Sophie's murder. Uhl has already informed the Emperor and the Austro-Hungarian General Staff of Leopold's conspiracy to seize the throne. As officers of the imperial guard of the Austro-Hungarian Army arrive, Leopold shoots himself in the head. Uhl leaves and places Sophie's locket in his pocket. He is now no longer Chief Inspector of Police.

As a boy approaches him, he is jostled by a bearded man in a long coat. The boy gives him a package containing Eisenheim's notebook about the Orange Tree trick, which Uhl had been unable to figure out. He asks the boy who gave him the notebook, and the boy replies "Herr Eisenheim." He realizes the person who jostled him stole the locket. He chases after the man, but the man boards a train and escapes. Uhl realizes the jostling and the notebook are a message from the illusionist, and begins to rethink recent events. He concludes that Sophie and Eisenheim staged her death so that she could be free of Leopold, with her ghostly apparitions being nothing more than phantasmagoria. Uhl laughs delightedly at the brilliance of their plan. Far away, Sophie and Eisenheim start a new life together in a cabin at a beautiful mountain. Eisenheim places Sophie's locket in her palm.


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