The Illusionist:

My wife and I saw the movie The Illusionist last night, and much enjoyed it. We liked both the script and the acting, though Paul Giamatti seemed particularly good (or at least his character was particularly interesting).

An interesting detail: The Illusionist was born with the last name Abramowitz, which pretty clearly marks him as Jewish; in the Austro-Hungary of the time, this would makes the Duchess's attraction to him especially scandalous, yet the movie (as best I recall) doesn't do anything with it. I suspect that the character's name was just preserved from the short story (which I haven't read, but which I'm told touches on the character's Jewishness more); and it's a slight enough reference that I doubt that it's intended as a background item for people to note even without further development -- my guess is that only a tiny fraction of the audience will note it. Still, I wonder whether there was any extra twist on this that I was missing, or whether this was just the gun in the first act that never went off in the third.

Note: I'd bet that the comments will have plenty of spoilers. (Nothing above really qualifies, since it's hardly a surprise that Abramowitz and the Duchess will be involved in some way.)

I liked the bit with the snakes.
8.20.2006 8:11pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
My wife and I noticed the same thing, and wondered about it. There were a couple of instances when it would have been natural for the authorities to remark on the Illusionist's Jewishness (if he was Jewish), but they did not.

Note, however, that sometimes Jewish-sounding names are not indicative of ethnicity -- and that may have been particularly true in the Hapsburg Empire. For example, the physician Ignaz Semmelweis (who discovered that handwashing could prevent post-natal fever) was not Jewish, though it is often thought that he was.
8.20.2006 8:48pm
John_R (mail):
This might be a stretch,I haven't seen the movie, but it could be an homage to another Jewish, Hungarian, illusionist: Harry Houdini, born Eric Weiss in Budapest. Just a thought.
8.20.2006 10:38pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Steve Lubet: Indeed, sometimes a German name is just German. But this is Abramowitz.
8.20.2006 11:13pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Just saw "The Illusionist". It had everything I looked for in a good movie. I vaguely considered the character might be Jewish, but didn't think it had much to do with the plot: At that time in the Austrian Empire (O.D.: I may be wrong, but I don't think the dual monarchy was established till later and there's even a vague reference to that in the dialogue.) all ethnic minorities were suspect; Jews no more or less than Carinthians, Magyars, Wallachians, Serbs, etc., etc. I'm curious how much the plot coincided with reality. I remember that one Archduke --Rudolph?-- committed a murder- suicide with his mistress at Mayerling (many movies on the incident), but don't remember for certain whether he had a scheming older brother. I guess I'll do a little web research now.
8.20.2006 11:18pm
PeteRR (mail):
I liked it. It had a Shakespeare In Love vibe to it. Giamatti has been impressing me since he portrayed Pig Vomit in the Howard Stern movie.
8.20.2006 11:28pm
A correction: The name is Eisenheim, not Abramowitz.
8.20.2006 11:28pm
PeteRR (mail):

A correction: The name is Eisenheim, not Abramowitz.

Eisenheim is his stage name. Abramowitz is his real name.
8.20.2006 11:33pm
Eisenheim was just the stage name he used. He was born as Abramowitz.
8.20.2006 11:33pm
So Abramowitz, presumably something like Abraham's family, with a stage name of Eisenheim, iron of heaven, marries a Duchess, and fathers a hard case, with lots of money, who can't be found....Osama bin Laden.
8.21.2006 1:15am
Steve Lubet (mail):
EV: Have you been able to locate the short story by Steven Millhauser on which it was based? Amazon has several collections by Millhauser, but they don't list the contents. According to one film review, neither Sophie nor Leopold were in the story, so the film evidently made some pretty significant changes -- perhaps even changing abramowicz's ethnicity though not his name.
8.21.2006 7:51am
Richard Bellamy (mail):
Several years ago, I saw "The Governess" with Minnie Driver playing a British Jew who impersonates a gentile ("Mary Blackchurch", I believe) in order to get a job as a governess.

She goes off to the island. Hijinks ensues. Eventually she returns to London and a new career.

It is never revealed to her employer that she was Jewish, and as far as I can tell, she leaves without anyone on the island ever finding out her "secret", which makes you wonder what the point of making her Jewish in the first place was.
8.21.2006 10:40am
CBH (mail):
I've read the short story (though I admit I can't remember it very well). As far as I can recall, the only relevant plot point related to Eisenheim's religion was that his love interest's family belonged to some sort of organization (maybe it was a political party?) that was notoriously anti-Semetic.
8.21.2006 10:48am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
the last name Abramowitz, which pretty clearly marks him as Jewish ... my guess is that only a tiny fraction of the audience will note it.

Try teaching Hamlet in the Bronx and having to explain that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are not Jewish.
8.21.2006 12:35pm
Steve Rosenbach (www):
"...Note, however, that sometimes Jewish-sounding names are not indicative of ethnicity..."

"...Indeed, sometimes a German name is just German. But this is Abramowitz..."

When our son Ben was in elementary school, he would sometimes ask me, "is So-and-So a Jewish name?" Belonging to a small Jewish minority in a predominently non-Jewish county, it was usually a matter of him being curious if a given classmate of his was in fact a Member of the Tribe.

I usually answered in terms of probability percentage values. Or as I explained to him, "Levine" gets a .99, "Miller" a .40-.60, and "O'Brien" a 0.01.

After a few inquiries from him, I started to use the shorthand, "P.O.J.", for Probablility Of being Jewish."

To this day, Ben &I still use the term, "P.O.J." in this manner. We're delighted that the P.O.J. values for names like Buchanan and McLaughlin are, at least incrementally, on the increase (2 wonderful famlies in our synagogue with those names.)

When it comes to Abramowitz, I have to agree with Eugene that the P.O.J. is .99 or higher.
8.21.2006 2:51pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
The trailers didn't do it for me. But I have been a Paul Giamatti fan from way back. (Well, 7-8 years or so. :) ) So, if I don't catch the cinema run, I'll be sure to catch the video.

Incidentally, the film did pretty well this weekend, at about $18K per, for it's 51 screen "dip the toes in the water" limited release.

I still haven't read any reviews (well, other than Eugene's :) ).
8.22.2006 1:55am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Putting it in Bayesian-type terms,
POJ(x) | NY(x) &20th c(x) >> POJ(x) | Danish(x) &15th c(x)
8.22.2006 12:20pm