The Illusionist

I saw The Illusionist Sunday.

My companions didn’t like it at all. But really, see this movie for the beautiful visuals and the friendly humor.  Though neither of those things comes across exceptionally well in the trailer below. It’s a stunningly picturesque depiction of Scotland, as well as a homage to the then (1950’s) vanishing and now vanished world of vaudeville. Like most animation, if you see it, you should do so on as big a screen as you can find.

Seeing this movie on Sunday was the breaking of my resolution to shift money from my movie budget to my book budget (after I spent more than I planned on books on Saturday). But my companions had between them seen almost every other non-obscene movie playing in Midtown and besides the MPAA was warning that the film contained smoking, which is often a good sign (e.g. Thank You For Smoking or Goodnight, and Good Luck).

There’s apparently a big scandal about how and whether the “shooting” script and the final film with its publicity materials departs from the original script and does or does work as an apologia (and/or apology and/or apology) for screenwriter Jacques Tati’s behaviour towards his illegitimate daughter and/or his younger daughter. (That’s a confusing sentence, but the dispute is very much an unsettled one.)

I came to the movie without knowing about all this controversy.  There’s some further confusion about the plot, probably partly because the style of the film is to have very little dialog and what little there is is mumbled and often in French or Gaelic. According to the publicity materials:

THE ILLUSIONIST is a story about two paths that cross. An outdated, aging magician, forced to wander from country to country, city to city and station to station in search of a stage to perform his act meets a young girl at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.

But Roger Ebert read the plot somewhat differently:

The story involves a magician named Tatischeff [Tati’s full last name–SJH] who fails in one music hall after another and ends up in Scotland, where at last he finds one fan: A young woman who idealizes him, moves in with him, tends to him, cooks and cleans, and would probably offer sex if he didn’t abstemiously sleep on the couch.

Well, I can see why the family is upset about that movie if it’s also about Tati’s relationship with his daughters.  I thought of all the controversy when I read Jennifer Reeser’s poem “Despair” in this month’s First Things. While the poem is in the 2nd person and I can separate the authorial voice from the author, I’d feel awkward to be her daughter right about now.

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