Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Deconstructing the Illusionist - Spoiler Warning

I've been waiting for Edward Norton's The Illusionist to come into the library for nabbing for some time - I missed at the cinema and thanks to The Prestige I had a real hunger for Victorian magicians... a dark world with an is it/isn't it real stance.

So woe betide me for nabbing it last night. Laura hadn't wanted to watch it. The Prestige so well sold by its trailer and when we watched it we absolutely loved it. It helps that has briskly walked up behind M. Night Shyamalan and stolen his crown (leaving poor Night drowning in that Water). What The Prestige had up its sleeves were a protagonist and antagonist who a) were burning with emotion and desires, b) swapped roles faster than their sleight of hand, and c) metered their magic in explainable reality.

In fact that The Prestige was able to explain away every trick so simply and yet still prove the need for art helped seal its brilliance.

The Illusionist by contrast seals itself behind a wall of disbelief. At the beginning when Inspector Ull is giving the Crown Prince the emotionless background the audience needs to be told in order to try and get us to care (yawn) I thought we were going to venture into Big Fish territory. Thankfully not.

The few tricks played out were interesting, but for the most part, served little purpose. The Prestige again was based on results: disappear a bird in a cage, free the girl from the water cabinet, catch the shot from the gun, teleport from side of the stage to another. The Illusionist's tricks had little or no purpose beyond the Orange Tree... and where'd those stupid Butterflies come from: getting Sophie onto the stage with the mirror trick... so that he can release the soul from the reflection... why? Certainly, Eisenheim picks up on the Victorian's want for messages from the other side of death in his clairvoyance sessions (which interestingly were in the novel version of The Prestige, but dropped for the film), but they're just a showcase so that he can build to the finale rather than a development.

Which leads me to the characters - they're all repressed, non-approachable stiffs. There is nothing here to hold onto. Eisenheim is too distant a character, so much so that when he comes across his childhood sweetheart again we almost don't believe that she could get into bed with him. His nemesis, the Crown Prince, should arrest him solely for his suspect Vienna voice rather than waste time working out his tricks.

There is no one to root for, and we all can guess at what point the main illusion (the film one, not the stage ones) begin, despite them showing us Eisenheim seemingly in mourning - *SOB*. Which leads us inexplicably to the end reveal, which is more like flashback realisation - and poorly done at that. Inspector Ull does his best Columbo as he suddenly pieces together how the two lovers have carried out their deception. Again in a tell way that gives all the answers to those of the audience who were napping throughout. The Prestige however handles its reveals with a deft hand, showing us moments that are as emotive as anything we've seen previously. We don't just get the snapshots that build up the evidence, but we get to see characters, still in anguish, working through what becomes our evidence.

So, whilst I have given you the answers to The Illusionist, consider this: I've saved you wasting your time with a charlatan. I've kept the secrets of The Prestige, and you should thank me - for once I've given away the prestige, you'll no longer crowd around with questions. ;)

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