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Movie Review

The Illusionist

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and violence

Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults, Teens
Genre:
Drama, Romance, Adventure, Fantasy
Length:
1 hr. 50 min.
Year of Release:
2006
USA Release:
August 18, 2006 (limited, then expanded)
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Yari Film Group Releasing

Necromany and the Bible

THE OCCULT—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

What is the Occult? Answer

Magic in the Bible

Love and sex

Should I save sex for marriage? Answer

How far is too far? What are the guidelines for dating relationships? Answer

What are the biblical guidelines for dating relationships? Answer

What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

How can I deal with temptations? Answer

What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer

Sex, Love and Relationships
Learn how to make your love the best it can be. Christian answers to questions about sex, marriage, sexual addictions, and more. Valuable resources for Christian couples, singles and pastors.
Featuring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan
Director: Neil Burger
Producer: Jane Garnett, Joey Horvitz, Ted Liebowitz
Distributor: Yari Film Group Releasing

“Nothing is what it seems.”

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “When word of the mysterious stage magician Eisenheim’s (Edward Norton) astounding illusions reaches the powerful and pragmatic Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), the ruler attends one of the magician’s shows in order to debunk Eisenheim during the performance. But when the Prince’s intended, Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), assists the magician onstage, Eisenheim and Sophie recognize each other from their childhoods—and a dormant love affair is rekindled.

As the clandestine romance continues, shrewd Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) is charged by Leopold to intensify his efforts to expose Eisenheim, even while the magician gains a devoted and vocal public following. With Uhl doggedly searching for the reasons and the man behind the trickery, Eisenheim prepares to execute his greatest illusion yet.”

“The Illusionist” is the first of two movies coming out this year about magicians. The other, directed by the man who did “Batman Begins,” has already had large promotions and billing, while this film has critical acclaim and poor distribution. Indeed, should you desire to see this film you may have to wait for DVD. So poor has the distribution of this film been that Karanous, the man who was supposed to review this film, was unable to find it at any theater near him. Thus, I was given the review.

Let me begin by saying that the movie is first and foremost a drama. It plays at fantasy and even a touch of horror, but that is its charm. The movie is really nothing more than a drama with fantasy dressing. Set in eastern Europe in the late 1800s, a detective sets about investigating the murder of a crown prince’s fiance. The woman had been having an affair with a stage magician who has been conducting apparent séances. The spirit of the dead woman appears on stage calling for justice.

Cinematically, the movie works very effectively. Those who love romance and drama will be most pleased. Those who are looking for horror or fantasy may be disappointed. The directing is stylish and the acting top notch. The sets and designs also give the movie the feel of Victorian England, even though it takes place in eastern Europe.

For the Christian, the movie does pose some problems. First, the hero and heroine are shown having sex on what amounts to their first date. They did know each other as children, but haven’t seen each other for years. Naturally (for Hollywood) the first thing they do when they get back together is roll in the hay. The scene is done without any nudity (just bare backs and close-ups of skin) or explicit sexual movements, but it is nonetheless a typical and disturbing trend that Hollywood knows of no other way to depict love. For Hollywood, romance equals sex.

There is also some violence, although nothing that one doesn’t see on television daily. There is, however, a shot of the woman’s dead body that might disturb some.

The greater problem is the fact that the Illusionist is conjuring up the dead. This is called necromancy and explicitly condemned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:11, see also Isaiah 8:19, Isaiah 19:3). Indeed, King Saul was sentenced to death by the Lord for consulting with a medium (1 Samuel 28:7).

At one point in the movie, there is even an explicit reference to the religion of “spiritualism” and its revival under the Illusionist. Spiritualism, for those who do not know, is an occult religion in which the dead may wander aimlessly without a guide. Mediums are used by spiritualists to conduct séances so that they may contact the dead, but Isaiah asked, “Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19). God condemns all such contact, even if it be possible. Jesus Himself declared “if [men] do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). This alone is reason enough to reject spiritualism. Moreover, the Christian knows that when mediums do contact “the dead,” it is more likely that it is a demon imitating a loved one (assuming it is not a fraud).

Of course, in fairness, part of the appeal of the movie is wondering what is real and what is illusion. After all, is he not an illusionist? The movie does not seem to actively promote spiritualism so much as exploit it (although no spiritualist would object to it).

This movie is based on an award-winning short story (“Eisenheim the Illusionist” by Steven Millhauser), which explains the quality of the script. It is, as aforementioned, well made and effective. The ending may also surprise some people, and Christians will probably enjoy the ending in particular since it relates to the matters discussed above. Do not expect a “shock” ending like the “Sixth Sense,” but remember that with an illusionist, nothing is what it seems.

Violence: Mild / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—This movie was very well done. I thought the acting was superb, the story line interesting, and the directing and scenery very good. The only objectionable part for me was the unnecessary sex scene. There is some question as to whether the illusionist can indeed raise the dead, but I thought the ending brought a good conclusion to this point. As he states, “All is an illusion,” even the seeming seances that he is performing on stage.

This movie kept my attention until the surprising and satisfying end. I plan on taking my teen age daughter tomorrow, as I think she too will enjoy this movie. It is a pleasure to view a movie that is done well on so many levels. I would recommend this movie.
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Lynn C, age 42
Positive—I was generally wary walking into this film, simply because the term “seance” had been thrown around with reference to the second half. I must admit that my first time through, I was a little ill at ease because I did not fully understand where the film would draw its conclusions. Much to my delight, “The Illusionist” is not about a spiritualist, but a true magician who manipulates the world around him in astounding ways. Knowing that in advance, most Christians will appreciate the film for its subtle beauty, understated but enthralling acting (most particularly by Edward Norton, who really deserves to be commended for his quiet, soft-spoken, and beautiful approach to the project), and delightful conclusion.

Truly, as stated numerous times by others, its only fault lies in a brief sexual scene that is rather ridiculous when you consider how long the two have been apart. Minus that, it is truly one of the most remarkable and regrettably forgotten films of the year.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
Charity Bishop, age 23
Positive—This was a very enjoyable movie mainly because of the ending—so hang in there. Rather than cringing throughout the references to the spirit world, I recommend just enjoying the story by keeping in mind that the Illusionist himself has no “delusions about his illusions.” The fact that gullible people believe they are seeing actual ghosts highlights the benefit to knowing what scripture says on the subject. (One example being Luke 16 that refers to the great gulf between the living and the dead that cannot be crossed.) This is a slow paced, articulate story, and I enjoyed the fact that one person spoke at a time, without a lot of background distraction noise. My only objection is that they took the typical Hollywood shortcut to romance by having them hop in the sack their first night together, but at least it was done without being unnecessarily graphic. This is not a movie for kids, they’d be bored silly. It is fun for post viewing reviewing.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Carole L, age 53
Positive—I believe this is the first movie that I have attended in which several people in the audience clapped when the movie ended (including me). This movie was such a surprise enjoyment for the four adults that went to it. I did not find any part of the movie offensive. When the couple did engage in sex that first date, it was filmed showing absolutely nothing that could be even be guessed at as sex. Unfortunately, the characters had to have sex instead of another type of intimate reunion, but with movies nowadays, I was just thrilled that there was no nudity. Great story, great acting overall, and just a really enjoyable move. Too bad the movie has been promoted so poorly. I’m sure we will buy it when it comes out on DVD.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Brian Watson, age 41
Positive—Great movie, probably the best one I’ve seen. Very touching, intriguing, and incredibly done. As for all the talk of necromancy “conjuring of the dead,” just watch the movie… it’s not what you think. After all, the movie’s name is “The Illusionist.” …I can’t remember any cussing, but there is a “sex scene.” However, all you see are the shoulders. Again I say, it’s a great movie, and I highly recommend it.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Sarah, age 18
Positive—I enjoyed this movie. It was somewhat predictable, but, overall, I was entertained. I really liked the sets and the costumes.
My Ratings: Average / 3
—Holly, age 30
Positive—I disagree only with the reviewer’s concerns of necromancy. The film shows Eisenheim working with lenses to create “the illusion” of bringing the dead to the stage for viewers. This is all part of his plot, his illusion, to allow Sophie and his escape from the Crown Prince Leopold, without having to “watch their backs” for the rest of their lives. When Chief Inspector Uhl tries to arrest Eisenheim, there is no body to arrest, only the illusion, just like the illusions he “conjured up” in his previous shows. Eisenheim even yelled out the window to the crowds below that he was not conjuring up the dead, that it was all an illusion. Granted, he was using this illusion to his advantage and against the Crown Prince, and there is a scene that spiritualism is revived but based on the people’s beliefs in his illusions, not on any real popular seeking of truth. The people’s desire to believe the illusions as reality is what led to the necromancy’s revival. The topic is a good springboard for discussion, as is the immorality between the two lovers, when viewing this movie since we as Christians do not want to give anyone the impression that we approve of either by our watching the movie but rather use it to educate for and encourage a better morality than Hollywood seems to want to offer. I don’t know that Eisenheim expected the crown prince’s suicide, though he did expect the popular overthrow of the prince’s plans. The viewing of Sophie’s “dead” body, as well as the prince’s suicide, may both be troublesome incidents for younger viewers.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
—Nancy, age 47
Neutral
Neutral—The film is good; the bit about the Occult and pre-marital sex turned me off. Without those two elements, this would’ve made for a great period piece. Oh, and watch for the very ending of the film if you plan to see it. It’s incredibly shocking.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Shannon, age 25
Neutral—I am commenting on both magic movies of 2006, THE ILLUSIONIST and THE PRESTIGE (This same review will be repeated on both movies' pages). Both film are very well produced and each have it’s own take, while one is a romance epic and the other is about vengeance, respectively. Both movies, as clearly demonstrated by THE PRESTIGE, it gives us “the pledge” where an ordinary thing or person is presented, “the turn” is where the sleight of hand does it’s trick, and finally, “the prestige” when the object is brought back unscathed if it was made vanished.

In the world of magic, there is a known truth that all magicians gave an oath to never reveal the tricks behind the turn, and only after so many centuries of repetitions that they must upstage the old act if they are to make a living. So the old trick where the assistant in a box being sawed in half is finally revealed how it was done, the “new” opened box version where the person is clearly seen being sawed off baffled even the most critical eyes. Are you still with me?

THE PRESTIGE does such a fine job of educating and entertaining us about real magic and the beyond. It presented us two formal magician friends, after a tragic act, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is obsessed with Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) who was responsible for the accident. Angier will do anything to upstage Borden’s “the transported man” trick. THE PRESTIGE is dark in tone and grounded in reality with a touch of the possibility.

While THE ILLUSIONIST is a bit more fanciful and spiritual, it is anything but about a young love couple separated due to their social status. The girls is high society while the boy is a poor circus act, but then fate brought them back together. As adults, she’s the fiance of a prince and he’s a great magician. What followed is a trick in-itself, like THE PRESTIGE, we invest in the time to help Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to unlock the mystery behind the murder.

Movies and magic are two of my favorite entertainments. Both are very similar in terms pulling a veil over our eyes. Of the two, I preferred THE PRESIGE for it’s realistic portrayal of magic while THE ILLUSIONIST for it’s romantic escapism. Yet, both film bothered me. Both films revealed to us the tricks and like Borden told a child to never reveal of such a secret for it will diminish the value of the trick. I believed that’s what happened here for me. I thoroughly enjoy both movies, yet the ending left a some what undesired taste.

[SPOILERS]: In magic, there are no deaths, and if it is, it’s part of the act and will be revived back to life. Tragically, in both films, death is the end. THE PRESTIGE have too many to count, while THE ILLUSIONIST have only but one, yet just as disturbing. I need a third film where magic is real, and the people involved managed to overcome death.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
—Mang Yang, age 35
Negative
Negative

none

Comments from young people
Positive—This movie was very good. I actually expected it to not be good at all, but I was proven wrong. It does suprise you. It definitely is a movie that gets your brain working. There is only one objectionable scene. But, other than that, this movie was great.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Sarah, age 15
Neutral—This movie was okay. It was very interesting. My friend had watched it before me, and she told me about the sexual part, so I skipped it. The acting was very well done, and the setting was beautiful, but I don’t plan on buying this movie.
My Ratings: Average / 3½
—Ellen, age 13
Neutral—Well, first I will give you the joys I found in this movie-the score was lovely, the camera work beautiful, the leading lady’s makeup was done tastefully and well, and altogether it was an elegant yet relaxed piece to watch. However, I was quite disappointed in the main characters-Eisenheim the Illusionist and the Duchess. We were able to skip the scene of fornication, but that scene wasn’t needed at all! In fact, it did not fit the characters personalities, and made me think of the Duchess in a lower light. Too, the movie began with two young (in their teens) lovers, and showed their “romantic” feelings, which to me came across as silly and unbelievable. They (particularly the Duchess) seemed to be trying too hard at that point.

After that, the acting was good, and the illusions performed wonderfully. I did like the scene where Eisenheim “confesses” to his audience that none of his illusions are real, and he gallantly apologizes for any false hope he might’ve given. Also, there is a scene where he gives some beggar boys money, after performing a trick for them, which I found endearing. The end will surprise you, a fact that was very intriguing. However, there was some swearing, and that scene I mentioned earlier. No matter how beautiful the rest of the movie was, I fear that I cannot recommend it to my friends, because of these two inhibitions.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
—Stephanie, age 15
Positive—I hate to compare the two, but “The Illusionist” fell short of the certain brilliance “The Prestige” had, although it was still highly entertaining and intriguing. “The Illusionist” was more concerned with outer corruption (the officials attempting to imprison the magician on accounts of treason) while “The Prestige” focused mainly on inner corruption (Angier’s obsession over Borden, which led to his downfall). “The Illusionist” did not go quite as deep into the human psyche, but it did have interesting cinematics and special effects. I found the actors' performances to be a little dull, and it was difficult to fully relate to their situations. Overall, very little objectionable material—only a brief scene as mentioned in the main review, and some slightly disturbing scenes of supposedly resurrected spirits. I did not find those scenes to be related to the occult in any way… I would recommend renting this, but if you would really like to see a good magician-related film, “The Prestige” is a better choice.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3½
—Katie S, age 16
Positive— I enjoyed this movie very much. The camera work was wonderful, the scenery, the acting, the portrayal of Victorian Europe. “The Illusionist” is very much like a mystery-you want to keep watching, you want to know whether or not want you’re seeing is really happing. Although I have mentioned all this wonderul traits about this movie there are some things that, as a Christian, I have to mention. The leading actors, upon seeing each other for the first time since they were children, have sex. There is a quick glance of a dead female body. And, as this a movie dealing with magic, people are raised from the dead. But besides these flaws, “The Illusionist” is a movie that anyone over 12 should see.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—ElizabethAnn, age 16