Friday, June 13, 2008

The Illusionist

For mine, a movie review that merely recounts the plot of a film is evidence that the writer is incapable of insight. Sure enough most reviews are like this. As is this one!

In amongst some unnecessary flashbacks, we are introduced to our hero Edward Abramowitz, A Jewish magician in turn of the century Austria (that's the old turn of the century, not the recent one). The ever redoubtable Ed Norton does the honours here, cast due to his singular ability to stare into the camera. This is not a criticism. He's very good at it. His semi-strangled Austrian accent is less successful, but not as bad as David Wenham's horrible affectation in the appalling 300 (and Van Helsing and The Proposition). David, knock it off mate!

Where was I? Oh yes, thanks to a superior ability to balance an egg on a stick, the young Abramowitz captures the heart of a beautiful young duchess who shall grow up to be Jessica Biel. No one much cares for this episode of young love since our egg-balancer is not the right sort of fellow, which is to say he's a peasant. This is a curious description since he's no such thing. In fact he's the son of a cabinet maker, an artisan. Certainly this would be objectionable to royalty, but not nearly as objectionable as his being Jewish. For the audience this fact is unmissable and yet somehow our cinematic Austrians of 120 years ago never remark upon it. Um... okay.

So our young hero is dudded out of the girl, never to see her again. Or until the second reel, whichever comes first. In this second reel/second incarnation he is now Eisenheim the Illusionist, the sensation of Vienna. The duchess, hanging off the arm of the archduke (the son of the emperor) is his volunteer from the audience. This is absurdly fortuitous, sure, but cinematically unremarkable. And what of the archduke, our hero's rival? Is he a charming, erudite fellow admired by all? Of course not. He has our hero's gal and therefore things must be arranged such that we hate him. A flick of the wrist and voilà, he deserves whatever our hero inflicts upon him.

It's Eisenheim's lot throughout this film to be opposed by those insufficiently dazzled by his ability and who object to him taking what he rightfully deserves. Clearly he deserves the duchess. She is one of the dazzled. The archduke is not dazzled. Bafflingly he seems entirely uninterested in watching a magic show. The first trick is barely over before he madly leaps up looking for wires and mirrors. What a strange man. Do such creatures exist? They do here and just as well too. Without the archduke establishing himself as such a dreadful fellow, Eisenheim's leaping into bed with his fiancé within ten screen-minutes of having met her again would make the archduke an object of sympathy. Perish the thought.

In the face of such thusly imagined villainy-deserving-of-punishment it is perfectly proper that Eisenheim smashes the archduke. And since he's a genius with a god-like ability to subvert reality, he doesn't so much do it himself, as delude everyone else into acting in his interests. This follows two strands.

The first and most screen-time consuming is Eisenheim's new act, in which the dead are brought back to life. This has only the most tenuous effect on the plot. Nothing results from it that couldn't have been achieved half an hour earlier with a single shot of the chief of police picking up the important clue. Truth be known, this thread is inserted for other purposes. Firstly it takes up screen time and gives us a bit more magical FX illusion, a useful thing in a film called The Illusionist. Secondly it further establishes the archduke as villain by making clear he is hated by his people. Thirdly and most significantly, it is there so that we might better understand the greatness of our hero. His magic acts do not merely entertain. They make society a better place by moving the people to wish for the downfall of their rulers. Apparently this mini-revolution pivots on spirits and spirituality. Good luck deciphering the gibberish conversations setting this out. Best to just go with it. Astoundingly in a societal upheaval based on 'spirituality', the church is nowhere to be seen. This is curious. Surely the director could have arranged a three minute scene to cast the church in a bad light. Pick up your act Hollywood!

The second plot strand involves the murder of the duchess and is the immediate vehicle of the archduke's destruction. It's this besting of the royal by our Jewish magician that is the whole purpose of the exercise. We're led to believe the archduke killed the duchess. He didn't of course. It was all a sham. Astoundingly the archduke never once declares his innocence. If he did we might rightly view him as a victim. And we can't have that.

So, the duchess didn't die. She merely pretended she was dead in order to blame the archduke for a crime he didn't commit. But let's not look at it in that way. Best we go along with the film's single-line-of-dialogue insinuation that he would have killed her anyway. Thus everything that takes place is not an act of wickedness but rather a testament to our hero's virtue and brilliance: the duchess might conceivably have been killed and now she lives; and the archduke might have, had he done it, escaped punishment for the crime, but now her fictional death is avenged and he lies dead. Yay! Everybody lives happily ever after.

Not least amongst the happily ever after is the chief of police. Sure he was the means of bringing about the archduke's death, but let's not view him as Eisenheim's puppet. Really Eisenheim did him a favour by assisting him to cast off the yoke of a fellow who madly didn't like magic and was otherwise rude to him. Upon the chief of police finally arriving at the flashback-truth of the plot he had been involved in, he seems almost pleased to have been so used. Hats off to such an impossible riddle! Who wouldn't feel flattered to be granted a glimpse into the mind of such a genius and serve as his pawn. The thought that one might be appalled and aghast at having been tricked into killing a perfectly innocent man is nowhere to be seen. And quite right too.

One question remains. Why was this film set in Austria? Why not set it in London? Hell, why not New York? It would have worked just dandy and made no difference to the plot, characters, budgets, locations, sets, or any other thing. But it wasn't. It was deliberately set in Austria. Why might that have been? If you think it's for the ambience you don't understand Hollywood, ha ha.

Meanwhile, if any sub-editors responsible for filling in the copy of TV movie guides happen to be reading, I shall help them out. Merely cut and paste the following, and hey presto, the job is done.

The Illusionist 2006 (drama) PG - Ed Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti. A Jewish magician in Austria who wishes to kill the archduke and end up with his fiancé tricks the chief of police into acting as his pawn, whilst also sowing dissent amongst the population.


kikz said...

meh:P won't be watching this one..
can't tolerate norton. creepfactor off the scale.

speakin of jew do's..

sometime..i'd love your rundown on another... the new mossad/hairdresser flick... idiot adam sandler as zohan? i think..

another avenue on this bent.. the 'borat'crap. i've read there was high goy attendance for this one.

the Silverfish said...

Sorry haven't watched it, shan't watch it as I can't watch it, this is a fella who still watches movies on Beta remember. Oh sure I have VHS and DVD,as well as a music library of some 2700 lp's yes on vinyl but really whats the point? The point these days is certainly not entertainment.
Perhaps I should get a TV complete with cable, that way I could drag it around from room to room and watch Nothing, much as I do now. As it is I'll just keep on reading your reviews so as to know what not to watch.
The hard cold fact is that ever since retiring and moving out to the bush some twelve years ago and not having much contact with the outside world short of the internet I have not missed the M.S.M one wit. Thank goodness for wind power and a Sat link as there are NO land lines here.Whoo Hooo.
I think the point that I'm trying to make is what ever happened to reading just for the sake of entertainment if nothing else? Call me old fashioned, but short of sailing and walking in the bush and listening to the real world, there is nothing I like better than to put on a raging fire, some good tunes and then to sit down with a book, a bottle of wine and My dogs at my side. But I digress.
One question with all of these Jewish so called magicians ie. Houdini Copperfield ,Blackstone et c. etc. etc. why don't they just say the magic words and make themselves all Disappear? What a concept huh?
By the By thanks for dropping by the Nest, it's just a small corner of a small planet but I like it just fine.

Anonymous said...

Himilaya was not that good. Looked like Documentary more than a movie. The music was great though.

Do a review of a great movie like Lord of the Rings or Bourne Supremacy.

nobody said...

Hey kikz,

Some films are so offensive that I won't even watch them. Like Borat.

I was sitting in with my Lebanese relatives and in a discussion about Borat, there were two lines of thought. One was that he was brilliant and took the piss out of Americans, and then there was the camp that I led which was that he's a very clever faux-opposition who actually reinforces all the 'neocon' racist precepts. Borat along with Ali G, are designed to make us think that Muslims are stupid and worthy of our racist contempt.

Hey, Sasha Baron Cohen! Go fuck yourself! And I got Zohan pegged likewise.

silverfish - I am so envious mate. I spent a couple of years without TV and gee it was great. I was so much happier then. The present consists of me looking after my father who has cancer. The future will be different. Sure enough.

And anon - It seems you do not get what I am on about here. Perhaps I should review LOTR. I don't know that you'll like the result though, ha ha.

Anonymous said...

Its me again,(guy who requested LOTR)
I like your movie reviews a lot to the point I watch some of the film to see if your analysis is correct.

Your writing style is new to me. They do not teach that in USA. Education system sucks.(done on purpose so "The Chosen Ones" can control dumbed down population)

nobody said...

Hey matey,

Yup. Same everywhere. Actually, truth be known, I had a good education thanks to the roman catholic church. It was so good I decided the church was bullshit and quit. Those fools! There's no future in that!

Thanks for reminding me about LOTR. I've been tossing around wondering what I should do next. And of course, always trying to avoid repeating myself. With Hollywood that's difficult. And Hollywood comprises 99% of what we watch. Anyway I came up with an angle for LOTR.

Don't forget Hollywood educates you. It instills a mindset that ensures that when you do come across a simple movie, the kind of movie that brings us closer to real humanity, like Himalaya, we dismiss it as crap. Can you dig it?

Anyway LOTR shortly. I still don't think you're going to like it though, ha ha!