We Are the Illusionists


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.

220px-The_Illusionist_PosterAfter 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.Prestige_poster

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.

imagesRemember 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.CharlotteWeb

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.

38 thoughts on “We Are the Illusionists

  1. For the entirety of a film, or during the reading of a whole book, it is like we are caught up in the weaving of someone else’s spell. Here’s to the illusionists and the spellmakers. Those gifted, talented, weavers of words.

    • Here, here. When I was in third grade, I remember watching with rapt attention a magician who came to my school. He was wonderful! So I have a soft spot for movies about magicians. They do what they can to entertain. I could have written another post about the plight of the illusionist who was feeling a bit redundant in an age of rock music. And no, this is not a hint that I will do so. I wanted to stick to the wonder.

  2. It’s a rare book that can ‘weave a world of wonder that draws you in and makes you want to stay forever’ but that magic is definitely something to strive towards. I agree with you too about having to believe in ourselves before anyone else can.

    • I know what you mean, Kate. I doubt J. K. realized at the time she first wrote Harry Potter that the book would have such an impact. She just wanted to tell a good story. And that’s all we can do–strive to tell a good story.

  3. First, loved the Edward Norton movie.

    That’s a great way to look at fiction authors. We have to create these worlds and characters in a way that makes them believable. It’s easy for some genres than others. For example, a Romance author has more of reality to pull from while a Fantasy author needs to forge the entire world. It takes a lot of crafting to get this write, so I can easily see the illusionist connection because that takes a lot of personal focus and drawing of attention.

    • I loved the Edward Norton movie too, so I at least wanted to mention it. And yes, the fantasy writer has a tough job. But you’ve got your world solidly in hand. You know your characters and you’re extremely well versed on your magic system. So readers can tuck in and relax.

      • I know what you mean. I don’t have quite the world you have. But I have to keep going back over my notes, even in regard to hair color or eye color! My hat is off to you, because you have so many characters who have so many different weapons and methods of casting spells.

      • It’s a challenge. I stumble on the hair and eye color a bunch. Noticed that the most common eye color in Windemere is green. Not much in the way of brown or blue. Should probably change that.

  4. I loved the animated film. It is by the same people who did The Triplets of Belleville, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

    One of the things I always tell the children in my life, usually around the time they turn ten, is to look around them, to remember how the world looks RIGHT THEN. Never forget it. There’s magic in the world everywhere, if we only know where to look.

    • That’s good advice, Andra. With kids today so tied to everything electronic, they need to be reminded (like all of us) to stop and look up, out, and all around. I remember my mom would always say, “Go outside!!!” Maybe the lack of our presence inside going “Mooooooommmm” all the time gave her some peace. But it was a good reminder to explore the world. Sadly, I used some of my free time to play Ding-Dong Ditch at the neighbors’ houses. I was not a nice child.

  5. Hey there. I nominated you for some awards. You can check it out in this post: http://melissajanda.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/ive-been-a-bad-bad-girl-criminally-overdue-post-on-award-nominations/
    Also, I loved this: “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.” Very well said.

  6. Yay, yes, we are! And it’s so much fun getting caught up in the magic. The Illusionist sounds wonderful. I’ve seen the Edward Norton film–and enjoyed it–but not the animated one.

    • Stephanie, I also love the magic and whimsy of story. But the animated Illusionist is a bit sad though. Some might find some aspects of it disturbing also. But it’s compelling.

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