Because of my expressed preference for animated movies, Netflix suggested The Illusionist, an Oscar-nominated 2010 film (originally titled L’Illusionniste for Pathé Pictures). (Note: This is not the Edward Norton film, which has the same title, but debuted in 2006.) So, I added it to my queue and watched it soon after its arrival. This post isn’t exactly a film review, but I have to tell you about the film in order to get to the point I’m trying to make.
The film was written by Jacques Tati and directed by Sylvain Chomet, who also directed an animated film I love: The Triplets of Belleville. Here is the synopsis from Amazon:
The Illusionist is a story about two paths that cross. While touring concert halls, theaters and pubs, an aging, down-on-his-luck magician encounters a young girl at the start of her life’s journey. Alice is a teenage girl with all her capacity for childish wonder still intact. She plays at being a woman without realizing the day to stop pretending is fast approaching. She doesn’t know yet that she loves The Illusionist like she would a father; he already knows that he loves her as he would a daughter. Their destinies will collide, but nothing—not even magic or the power of illusion—can stop the voyage of discovery.
To view the trailer, click here.
After reading that synopsis, you might be thinking of Alice in Wonderland by now or wondering whether the film is a mashup of Alice in Wonderland and the Edward Norton film or even Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film about dueling magicians: The Prestige. Uh, nope, though the Alice in Chomet’s film has curiosity and wonder similar to that of Lewis Carroll’s Alice.
While the film has moments of wonder, the wonder is overshadowed by the bleak realities of life. At one point, the illusionist, whose stage name is Tatischeff, leaves a note for someone that reads, Magicians do not exist. You’ll have to see the movie to understand who or why. But I don’t agree with the supposition that magicians do not exist—the point I’d like to make. (I can hear you sighing and saying, “Finally.”) In fact, the main character’s profession seems an apt metaphor for the writing life.
What is a writer but an illusionist whose literary sleight of hand becomes the stuff of magic to a rapt audience? The skilled writer/illusionist weaves a world of wonder that draws you in and makes you want to stay forever. Oh, I don’t mean the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” kind of shallow storytelling that never caused anyone to be immersed in a narrative. (Yes, that is a line from the movie, The Wizard of Oz. And no, I’m not implying that story is shallow. Glad I cleared that up.) I mean a narrative that makes you believe the world could be real.
Remember how you felt when you read about Harry Potter getting his letter from Hogwarts and finally escaping from the home of the horrible Dursleys? Remember that rush as you followed Bilbo on an adventure with the dwarves? Or, remember how a talking spider named Charlotte captured your heart with her encouragement of a pig named Wilbur? I do. I get giddy just thinking about these stories. That’s magic; that’s the power of a story.
So yeah, magicians exist. We just need someone to believe in us, as Tatischeff did. We can start by believing in ourselves.
The Illusionist 2010 movie poster from filmint.nu. Other movie posters and book cover from Wikipedia.