If cinematic art is the best display of the magic of the impossible, what could be better than some movies about some fascinating magicians?
Indeed, each film is an intricate smoke and mirror deception, combining the best of all the arts into one work.
We know that magic shows have always been successful throughout human history, across all times and cultures.
It makes little difference whether they are a small birthday show for a child or big performances like David Copperfield‘s.
Each time we try to test the wizard to find out his tricks, the actual amusement maybe lie in being fooled.
Today we got a group of magicians experiencing drama, love, and death in three beautiful movies.
So without further introduction, the curtain opens and lets the show begin.
Table of contents
The Illusionist (2006)
The story takes place in Vienna in the late 1800s, with the young prince on the verge of marrying a beautiful duchess.
At the same time, a new illusionist arrives in town, and with his skill, he quickly wins the people’s enthusiasm.
Invited to the royal palace to perform his shows, the man has a dispute where he offends the prince.
It soon turns out that the magician was actually born nearby in a humble peasant family.
Worse, he and the Duchess have always been in love since childhood and still today.
But eventually, their respective families painfully separated them due to their different lineage.
Mad with jealousy, the prince openly threatens the woman if she refuses to marry him.
The next day, the chief of police discovers the duchess’ corpse in the woods, immediately suspecting murder.
At the news of the death of his beloved, the magician closes himself in silent sorrow and buys a small theater.
However, his new shows are very different, as he seems to be able to evoke and speak with the spirits of the beyond.
At that point, an open war begins between him and the prince, with the threat of having him arrested if he dares to repeat that illusion.
While the police chief investigates both men, the people take to the streets when a coup against the king is imminent.
Fantasy and imagination against order and power
Neil Burger is a director I almost always appreciate, especially in his best movies like Divergent and Limitless.
Much less I appreciated, however, the eponymous series or his bland Voyagers of 2021.
However, he remains a director who certainly knows his job and is always impeccable in the story’s staging and pace.
One of the strengths of The Illusionist is definitely the main character, Edward Norton.
The actor adds a lot of charisma and depth to an otherwise reasonably stereotypical, albeit endearing, character.
His fight against the prince, Rufus Sewell, has good moments of tension, although lacking a real twist.
Between the two men is the beautiful Jessica Biel, a first-rate actress here somewhat limited in a role that doesn’t offer much to her skills.
Finally, we have the great Paul Giamatti, certainly the best of the cast, in the ambiguous role of the cop, a little honest and a little corrupt.
It may seem that I’m downplaying this movie, but I enjoyed and recommended it to everyone, even with its limitations.
The historical reconstruction of the period is very effective and transports us into the magic of that era.
An era that is a few years before 1900, where the generation of cinema will begin, and these magicians will have much less space than once.
We visit together that world that no longer exists, knowing the customs and traditions of a beautiful and dangerous city like Vienna.
The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige is another movie with two magicians as protagonists, remaining in the late 18th-century historical period.
The story begins with the murder of a famous illusionist, which a rival drowns by deception during a show.
During the trial, an old illusionist trick engineer tells the jury about the lives of the two men.
Initially, they were friends and colleagues, both working for him along with a beautiful girl.
However, her death will separate these two magicians forever, beginning a ruthless and endless rivalry.
Initially, one seems successful while the other lives in mediocrity, performing in increasingly infamous clubs.
At some point, even the other magician becomes a celebrity through a spectacular teleportation trick that nobody can find out.
The inexhaustible rivalry leads the rival to travel to America, contacting Nikola Tesla to help him in his magic.
The scientist creates an even more incredible trick for him, but it will have a high price to pay.
Both men are now lost in their obsession to be the best, destroying their respective families.
Unfortunately, the magician in prison has one last surprise to unveil, which will change the outcome of their long duel.
A life consumed by magic and hatred
Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly one of the magicians of modern cinema, after his debut with small movies like Following and Memento.
Since he switched to big productions, The Prestige is what I liked the most among all his works.
It arrived in theaters between the first and second Batman trilogy movies, receiving successfully at the worldwide box office.
The story is simply perfect, maybe stretching too much sometimes, but without exaggerating as in other Nolan movies.
The desire to prevail and see their rival fall to ruin consumes these two men, destroying everything around them.
Michael Caine, as usual, leads the story alternating between the two protagonists, almost neutral without taking sides.
Finally, it is phenomenal the cameo of David Bowie in the role of Tesla, a scientist as crazy and eccentric as he was brilliant and revolutionary.
This character’s entrance on the scene completely changes the movie, incredibly shifting towards pure sci-fi.
In short, The Prestige is a masterpiece of modern science fiction that marks one of the highest moments of Nolan’s career.
A director as famous as he is controversial but certainly never goes unnoticed.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
We finally get to a movie about magicians by one of my all-time favorite directors, the brilliant and insane Terry Gilliam.
The fable he tells us this time is about a group of friends wandering around England with their traveling show.
Amusing people with little tricks and illusions to make a living, their piece of resistance offers a mystical journey inside a magic mirror.
The group doesn’t know it, but their leader was a religious guru who won a bet with the Devil many centuries earlier.
The prize had been eternal life, during which he fell into ruin as the world changed around him.
After many years, the Devil offered him one last wager to redeem himself, where the winner would get his young daughter as a prize.
During one of their nights out, the group rescues a man some criminals have hung under a bridge.
He turns out to be full of vitality and enthusiasm, managing to rekindle their show and reinvigorate their business.
This mysterious stranger also has a dangerous secret that he doesn’t want to reveal to anyone.
His lies, however, do not affect the magic mirror, capable of looking into the soul of anyone.
Finally, the final duel between the magician and the devil takes place within this mirror.
Yet both are unaware of a worse enemy, who also wants the soul of the beautiful daughter.
Heath Ledger’s last song
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was the last movie starring Heath Ledger, although many mistakenly think it’s The Dark Knight.
Unfortunately, death occurred when the actor, still very young, had to complete many shoots.
Terry Gilliam builds a fantastic circus of magic, drama, and feelings that blends with his inimitable intelligence and irony.
Parnassus is an ambiguous and funny character, played by a great Christopher Plummer.
The actor gives a fantastic performance, playing cat and mouse with a devil never so human and sympathetic.
Far from the usual stereotype of being evil and sadistic, the devil played by Tom Waits is simply adorable.
Much worse is the human cruelty and indifference, which become the curses of Parnassus during his long immortal life.
The devil’s little bets are nothing, in fact, compared to the misdeeds we witness criminals, bureaucrats and swindlers doing.
In the end, a small glimpse between these friends and foes makes us realize that everything is different, but nothing ever really changes.
I’ve read many people who didn’t appreciate this movie, that instead, I love all the Terry Gilliam‘s filmography.
Maybe we movie lovers are a bit like Parnassus, little magicians who remain the same in a world that changes as we don’t like.