The Illusionist (2006 film)

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The Illusionist
The Illusionist Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Neil Burger
Produced by Brian Koppelman
David Levien
Michael London
Cathy Schulman
Bob Yari
Screenplay by Neil Burger
Based on "Eisenheim the Illusionist" 
by Steven Millhauser
Starring Edward Norton
Paul Giamatti
Jessica Biel
Music by Philip Glass
Cinematography Dick Pope
Edited by Naomi Geraghty
Bob Yari Productions
Contagious Entertainment
Distributed by Yari Film Group Releasing
Release dates
  • August 18, 2006 (2006-08-18)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $17 million
Box office $87,892,000

The Illusionist is a 2006 American period drama 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 fin de siècle 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.


The film begins in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, in 1889, with the arrest of Eisenheim (Edward Norton) by a Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) of the Vienna Police, during what appears to be necromancy passed off as a magic show. Later, Uhl recounts the story of Eisenheim's life for Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell).

Eisenheim was born the son of a peasant cabinetmaker in a rural village. As a teenager, Eisenheim (Aaron Johnson) meets a traveling magician who performs several tricks for him, capturing his interest in the craft. He also falls in love with Sophie, the Duchess von Teschen (Eleanor Tomlinson), a noblewoman well above his social class. Although the two are forbidden to see each other, they meet secretly until at last they are caught and forcefully separated.

Eisenheim then leaves home and travels the world, perfecting his craft. He returns to Vienna years later as a master illusionist. He again meets the adult Sophie (Jessica Biel) at one of his performances. He soon learns that Sophie is expected to marry the Crown Prince Leopold, whose "progressive sympathies" mask a rumored history of brutality towards women, and probable murder of one. After humiliating the Crown Prince during a private show, Eisenheim finds his popular performances banned from Vienna.

Eisenheim suggests to Sophie that they flee the Empire together. Sophie, however, explains that it is not so easy. The Crown Prince is planning a coup d'etat to usurp the Crown of Austria from his elderly father, the Emperor Franz Joseph I. He plans to use his engagement to her to win the Hungarian half of the Empire as well. Still, she fears that they would be captured and executed if she simply escaped.

That evening, Leopold confronts Sophie at the Mayerling hunting lodge and they break up. Leopold, enraged, chases her into the stables with his sword drawn. The next day, Sophie's horse, covered in blood, is found in Vienna. Within hours, Sophie is found dead in the Vienna Woods. Enraged, Eisenheim tells Uhl that Sophie was about to leave the Crown Prince for him. Uhl refuses to believe this.

Eisenheim prepares a new magic show, and apparently summons spirits. Leopold attends one of the shows incognito, during which Eisenheim summons the spirit of Sophie, who says that someone in the theater murdered her. Panicking, Leopold orders Uhl to arrest Eisenheim for fraud. Uhl pleads with Eisenheim never to summon Sophie again. However, Eisenheim manages to avoid being detained.

Returning to the movie's opening scene, Uhl sees Eisenheim summon Sophie a second time. She is sad that she lost her locket when she died, because it was a gift from Eisenheim. Uhl tries to arrest Eisenheim on the spot, only for the illusionist to vanish into thin air like his summoned spirits. The film then returns to Uhl telling Eisenheim's life story to Leopold. Uhl then explains to Leopold that he's found evidence that he murdered Sophie: a jewel from the prince's blood-stained sword as well as Sophie's locket. He has already informed the Emperor and the General Staff of Leopold's conspiracy to usurp the throne. Leopold reacts; pointing a revolver at Uhl, vowing to kill him. As officers from the Imperial Guard of the Austro-Hungarian Army arrive on the scene, Leopold rants against his father's constitutional monarchy. As the officers start to break down his door, the Crown Prince shoots himself through the head.

While Uhl is leaving the Imperial Palace, he's approached by a boy who gives him a folio explaining one of Eisenheim's magic tricks. Uhl, recognizing a disguised Eisenheim nearby, follows him to the train station. As the train leaves, a montage shows an admiring Uhl putting the pieces together in his mind. In reality, Eisenheim and Sophie have framed Leopold for a murder which never took place. Eisenheim, then seen walking up to a country house, embraces Sophie.



The script was based loosely on "Eisenheim the Illusionist", a short story by Steven Millhauser from Millhauser's 1990 collection The Barnum Museum. Together with The Prestige and Scoop, The Illusionist was one of three films in 2006 to explore the world of stage magicians.

Magic consultancy and technical advice during the production was supplied by James Freedman, Ricky Jay, Michael Weber and Scott Penrose. Director Neil Burger wrote, "Starting in pre-production, James (Freedman) became a major collaborator; brainstorming, designing and refining everything from small sleight of hand tricks to major narrative set pieces. He worked with Edward Norton preparing him for his stage performances and acted as a hand double in various scenes. His contribution was enormous."[1] Aaron Johnson, who plays the teenage Eduard in the beginning of the film, also learned how to do the ball trick seen in those scenes.[2]

The original story, on which the movie is based, does not include the artifice of the protagonist framing the Duke for murder.

Although the film is set in Austria, it was filmed mostly in the Czech Republic. The city of Vienna is represented in the movie by those of Tábor and Prague, while the scenes set in Eisenheim's childhood village were shot in Český Krumlov. The Crown Prince's castle is actually the historical fortress of Konopiště (located near Benešov), formerly the home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The front gates of Leopold's Vienna palace were actually the front gates of Prague Castle. All other shots were at Barrandov Studios in Prague.[3]


As of June 29, 2008 the film has earned worldwide box office receipts of $87,892,388, including $39,868,642 in the United States, exceeding its reported $16.5 million budget.[4] In the first five months after it was released on DVD in January 2007, the film earned $35.99 million in rental revenue.[5]

The Illusionist received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes classified it as 74% "certified fresh" with 187 reviews (as of February 13, 2014).[6] Jonathan Rosenbaum's review in The Chicago Reader praised Paul Giamatti's performance of "a character who feels sympathy for the magician but owes allegiance to Leopold and is therefore divided and compromised ... Giamatti's performance is subtle, expressive, and richly nuanced."[7] Stephen Holden, in his review for The New York Times, praised Edward Norton's role, which, according to him, "perfectly fits his disturbing inscrutability".[8] Variety wrote that Jessica Biel "is entirely stunning enough to fight to the death over".[9]

Director of Photography Dick Pope earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, losing at the 79th Academy Awards to Guillermo Navarro, cinematographer for Pan's Labyrinth.


The soundtrack for the film was composed by Philip Glass and was released on the 15th August 2006.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "The Illusionist" – 2:24
  2. "Do You Know Me" – 2:48
  3. "Chance Encounter" – 3:23
  4. "The Locket" – 2:54
  5. "The Orange Tree" – 1:47
  6. "The Mirror" – 1:27
  7. "Wish I Would See You Again" – 1:26
  8. "The Sword" – 0:36
  9. "Meeting In The Carriage" – 1:09
  10. "Sophie" – 2:50
  11. "The Secret Plot" – 2:53
  12. "Sophie's Ride To The Castle" – 2:05
  13. "The Accident" – 1:30
  14. "The New Theater" – 1:39
  15. "Frankel Appears" – 3:26
  16. "A Shout From The Crowd" – 2:02
  17. "Eisenheim Disappears" – 2:07
  18. "The Search" – 3:00
  19. "The Missing Gem" – 3:03
  20. "The Chase" – 4:11
  21. "Life In The Mountains" – 4:31


  1. ^ "News (Number 292)". 28 January 2006. Retrieved 2009-12-25. 
  2. ^ Screenwriter/director Neil Burger. Audio commentary for The Illusionist (DVD). Event occurs at ?[when?]. 
  3. ^ "Filming locations of The Illusionist movie". 11 September 2012. Retrieved 2013-05-05. 
  4. ^ The Illusionist at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-12-25.
  5. ^ The Illusionist (2006) - DVD / Home Video Rentals from Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-12-25.
  6. ^ The Illusionist at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Chicago Reader: Movie Reviews
  8. ^ The Illusionist - Movie - Review from The New York Times
  9. ^ The Illusionist Review from Sundance from Variety magazine

External links[edit]