NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Cat. who says... "I have heard a lot of people say they knew the twist early on, but I really think you are meant to catch on to the fact that they are up to something. It is beautifully filmed.
The movie starts with the Chief explaining to the Prince at the royal estate that Eisenheim won’t talk. The prince says it is his job to fix the situation by whatever means are necessary and asks if they have anything on him. The Chief starts to talk about his past and we go to showing…
Eisenheim as a young boy balancing an egg on a spoon as he walks through the town. He passes a girl and a few boys with obvious wealth on horses. The boys taunt him and leave, the girl follows him. They sit in a room as he shows her magic tricks. Adults barge in and take her saying she cannot be with the commoners. We learn this is Princess Sophie. There is then a montage of the two of them meeting each other in secret. There is a moment when they, as young teens, kiss. They hide in a carved out cave/cellar. She begs him to make her disappear. They agree to flee together, but are tracked down and she is dragged away. Her guards threaten Eisenheim to stay away from her or they will punish his family. He creates a beautiful wooden puzzle locket (the one that is featured on the website) and gives it to Sophie with his picture inside. She says that she had always wanted a picture of him.
He leaves with a knapsack that night and never returns.
The next we see, Eisenheim is an adult and performing a show, as he has returned to Vienna. The Chief Inspector Uhl is in the audience. E impresses the audience with several tricks, including growing an orange tree (important) and rolling a ball ala Bowie in Labyrinth. Norton actually learned all of the tricks himself for the movie. At the next show, he has a royal guest in the audience. The Chief Inspector comes with his men to check out the security of the venue for the Prince. He confesses to having an interest in magic and trifles with some tricks. He asks for the secret of the orange tree but Eisenheim avoids it and instead gives away another trick. You can tell that the Chief likes him and respects his talent. At that evening’s show, Eisenheim asks the audience for someone to step forward. Someone who is not afraid of death. No one moves. The Prince stands and after a moment gestures toward his companion, Princess Sophie. She walks on stage as a large mirror is rolled onto the stage. Eisenheim’s eyes widen as he recognizes her and he asks, “Do we know each other? Have we met?” She says no. They bring a large red robe out that she puts on and he “hypnotizes” her. He has her face the mirror and wave to herself, turn around and bow. Her reflection does the same except the bow and crosses her arms. In the mirror, another figure approaches behind Sophie’s reflection, raises a sword and kills her. Sophie faints and Eisenheim catches her. She turns to the audience and is fine.
The Prince requests Eisenheim come to speak with them after the show. Eisenheim keeps him waiting as he comes to grips with seeing Sophie again. When he makes an appearance, the prince tries to explain all of his illusions. Sophie says she should let him keep his secrets. The Prince invites him to the castle to do a private performance where no stage or lighting can be manipulated. Eisenheim agrees and says, “Maybe I’ll make you disappear,” to Sophie.
Sophie sends a letter to E the next day to have him meet her. There is a carriage switch and they talk as they drive around town. She reveals that the Prince has men watching her “for her safety” and that she is to be married to him. They talk about growing up and a little about where he was during all those years. He heads back to the theater. The Chief’s men report his meeting with Sophie.
He appears that night and performs for a private party of the Prince’s friends. He starts with a magic painting of the Prince’s father the king. Someone in the group laughs and says he thought the old man wasn’t invited. The animosity is clear. The Prince goes up to explain how the trick was done, going so far as to even look up Eisenheim’s sleeve. It is clear that he wants to ridicule and expose the magician and is rather drunk. Sophie tells him to stop and the others chide him for trying to ruin the show. He stops, very unhappy and challenges E to do a trick without using any props he has brought with him. E requests the Prince’s sword and touches the floor with it, talking about the elusiveness of power and comparing it to King Arthur’s Sword. He asks who will take the sword as he balances it on the tip. Two men try and cannot pick it up. The Prince then tries and is not able to remove it. He glares at E, embarrassed. E nods and the Prince picks up the sword. He angrily walks out. Sophie, scared, follows him. The Prince tells the Chief to shut him down.
Sophie shows up on horse back at E’s cottage, petrified. The Prince has a reputation for hurting women. E sees that she still wears the locket he gave her and the two make love. She reveals that the Prince is using her as a bargaining chip to get another country’s backing so he can overthrow his father and take control. E asks her to run away with him and she says no that as long as they live, he will always hunt them. He asks if she would trust him, if he could make her disappear, would she leave with him. She agrees to go.
He returns to the theatre only to find that they have been shut down. He fires his manager and begins to pack up his gear. He is “invited”, also known as trailed and forced, to lunch with the Chief. The Chief tells him to be careful, that he has made a powerful enemy. That while they live on the fringe of their glittering world, they can never, ever be a part of it. He admits to being a butcher’s son and E reveals that he was a cabinet maker’s son and that his father built the cabinets at Sophie’s home. That they knew each other as children.
Later, we see E packing a suitcase and withdrawing large amounts of money. He is also packing up the cabin he was staying at. He specifically tells them to leave the lights. He meets Sophie at her carriage and gives her the suitcase. She then reaches out, exposing her face and kisses E. The Chief’s men report this. The Chief goes to the Prince and tells him that they were seen together, but does not tell him about the kiss. He is very unhappy. I believe he says something like, take care of him or I will.
Around this time, not too sure exactly, the Chief overhears a conversation at the train station with E and an old man. “She understands everything. You’ll travel ahead with her and I’ll follow.”
We next see Sophie waiting for the Prince. He informs her that she will stop embarrassing him and she will be leaving with him tomorrow. She tells him no and that she will not marry him. He strikes her hard across the cheek. He then basically threatens her life if she is not there in the morning. He is very drunk. You see her say good bye, rush out and run past an attendant and run out to the stables. He staggers after her, and from the attendants POV, you see him enter the stable and hear her cry no please don’t, scary bad sound. Shortly after you see her horse ride out with laying unconscious on her back. The horse shows up the next morning, still saddled, without her and blood down its side. Presumably from Sophie. The Prince leaves without her. The people start a search team. E’s group come across her floating very Ophelia like in the river. E storms into the water and holds her body in his grief. The royal physician is there when the Chief arrives and pronounces her dead from having her throat slashed. The Chief and his men look into the closed carriage at the body, you see her throat and he picks up a small green jewel from the folds of her dress.
E, overcome by grief, starts accusing the Prince of murder and yelling at the Chief about how corrupt he is. The Chief goes off to inspect the castle grounds and warns E to be careful of what he says.
Meanwhile, E opens a theatre with men he smuggles from China (?). His act solely consists now of raising and speaking to the dead. It causes quite the stir in society. The Prince dons a disguise and attends a show. That night, E conjures Sophie. E is obviously anguished at seeing her. People in the audience yell questions to her, first and foremost if the Prince murdered her. It is clear that the Prince has lost favor with the people. He leaves and orders the Chief to stop him.
The chief meets with E in his rooms. He is clearly unhappy at the situation and tries to warn E, saying that he really does not want to arrest him. That if it’s real, it’s amazing and if it’s not, its amazing. E tells him to enjoy the show.
The police surround him and arrest him on fraud. At the station, he refuses to say how he does it, but throws open the windows and tells the waiting crowd that everything he does is an illusion, that it is not real and he never meant to give anyone any misplaced hope. He leaves on the grounds that it is no longer fraud.
Before the show, he rehires his old manager and gives him the theatre.
That night he conjures Sophie again and she says that she is missing her locket, that she had it when she died. The police swarm the stage and when they go to arrest him, they discover he is intangible as his ghosts. They search, but cannot find him.
The Chief goes to the cabin and looks through all of what E has left behind. One was the plans for the locket and you see him swirl a glass container of dark liquid.
He returns to the stables where Sophie was last seen and finds the locket and another gem in the hay. He seizes the Prince’s sword and finds that it is missing the stones he now has in his hand.
This leads him full circle to where we started the film…
The Chief continues the conversation with the Prince accusing him of murder. The Prince flips out and says that the magician planted everything and is trying to ruin him. He grabs a gun and threatens to shoot the Chief to keep him from telling. Uhl says that is why he took so long in getting back to the Prince. One of the loose ends was writing the King and telling him everything. We hear horses coming up to the house and the Prince locks all the doors. He is still holding the gun to Uhl. He yells that he was going to make things better, but the magician set him up and ruined him. His father’s guards are trying to kick down the door. The Prince turns the gun on himself and blows his brains out. The guards enter just after.
The Chief frantically searches for E and is at the train station trying to catch him. We see E, in disguise, get on the train. Just after that, and street urchin gives the Chief a package. It contains the notebook with the secret for the orange tree. Uhl looks around him as we see flashbacks. The suitcase contained disguises and a drugging agent for the wine. E swiping the stones during the King Arthur trick. Her being revived from her supposed death. Her purposely getting the blood on the horse’s side. The physician really being E’s friend from the train in the earlier scene. You see Sophie drugging the wine before the encounter.
In the end, you see him arriving at a place in the country reuniting with a very alive Sophie.
The movie ends with a very chagrined then amused Chief. He relished the idea that they got away with it. And that he was let in on the illusion.Cut to the Chase:
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Sophie was never killed. It was all an illusion to get her safely away from the Prince so she and Eisenhiem could be together.
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