A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the film includes some mysterious behaviors and effects, so the magic tricks and ghostly apparitions look convincing (via digital help). The prince abuses his fiancée verbally and physically. She appears to be stabbed, her neck and torso bloodied; her body is discovered floating in a river. She later appears as a ghost (among other ghosts) for a magician's show, frightening and awing the audience. Characters wield swords and the men threaten one another with violence, leading to a fight at film's end. One sex scene emphasizes the passion of the moment, without explicit nakedness. One character uses the f-word.
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What's the story?
The son of a cabinetmaker, young Edward Ambramovitz falls in love with a beautiful girl, Sophie. He charms her with his interest in magic and ornate devices, but because she's royalty, their friendship, even as it develops into young love, is forbidden. After they're dragged apart one night, he disappears, leaving Sophie to follow her fate, that is, to be married off in a royal arrangement. All this is revealed (as flashback) at the film's beginning by Viennese Police Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), who is assigned by Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) to discover the truth behind a mysterious magician called Eisenheim (young Edward grown up, played by Edward Norton). The prince is affianced to Sophie (now played by Jessica Biel), and means to contain the appeal of the showman. Not only does Sophie appear strangely drawn to him, but so do all his subjects. The film follows Uhl's investigation as it comes to encompass Sophie's bloody murder.
Is it any good?
A ravishing romance framed as a slow-moving mystery, THE ILLUSIONIST smartly questions the distinctions and overlaps between belief and truth. On one hand, it concerns a young couple whose love is denied by their class differences. In between, the film also looks at class and gender conflicts, with an acknowledgment of racism of the day (19th century Vienna).
Aided considerably by Philip Glass' typically swirling score, the film uses Uhl's skepticism to offset Edward's inscrutability and Sophie's passion, but all three characters live earnestly in a realm of faith and trust. While they all oppose the practical, egotistical prince by nature, they also fall under his rule. Leopold, by turn, hates their romanticism.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of magic shows and tricks: Why do the tricks fascinate us? How is it fun to try to figure out the deception (as the prince and the detective try to do)? How does the prince's presumption of his power make him seem selfish and greedy? How does the detective frame the story as an investigation, with his limited knowledge of events and motives?
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