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Comparing two "Illusionist"s
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
Finally (prompted by kestrell) got around to reading "Eisenheim the Illusionist", by Steven Millhauser, the basis for last year's film "The Illusionist". It's a fascinating contrast. Many of the film's characters and scenes are taken quite faithfully from the short story, but they are used to tell a completely different story.

The short story uses stage magic as a vehicle to meditate on the difference between reality and fantasy. The film uses stage magic as a backdrop on which to paint a romantic thriller. The film's ending owes a lot (structurally at least) to "The Sixth Sense", whereas the short story's ending reminds me of Neil Gaiman's "Ramadan".

The star-crossed romance and the murderous prince were almost entirely invented for the film. You can see the seeds that the scriptwriter developed them from, but they weren't particularly relevant to the short story.

Going the other way, the film contains no hint of the most bravura section of the short story, a drawn-out rivalry between Eisenheim and Passauer, a competing stage magician. This section alone is worth reading the short story for.

Both versions are recommended, though not necessarily for the same audience. Enjoyment of the film requires an ability to suspend disbelief, and not look too deeply into the holes in the plot. Enjoyment of the story requires being able to enjoy lengthy lists and philosophical meanderings. As it happens, I like them both, but I can easily imagine people only liking one. To people interested in the art of adaptation, I strongly recommend both of them.

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