Eisenheim was born to a cabinet-maker and became interested in magic after meeting a travelling magician. He also fell in love with Sophie, the Duchess von Teschen , but the two were forbidden to see each other on account of the former being a peasant. They kept meeting secretly but were caught one day and separated by force. Eisenheim proceeded to study magic by travelling the world, and fifteen years later returned to Vienna to perform.
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The synopsis below may give away important plot points. Eisenheim was born the son of a cabinetmaker Andreas Grothusen in Austria-Hungary. One day when he was a teenager, Eisenheim played as young man by Aaron Johnson meets a traveling magician David Forest along a road. The magician performs several tricks for him and then, according to various accounts, both the magician and the tree he was sitting under vanish.
Eisenheim becomes obsessed with magic tricks after this. Young Eisenheim makes Young Sophie a unique marquetry puzzle locket, which if twisted correctly reveals a small, hidden photograph of Eisenheim. Although the two are forbidden to see each other, they meet in a secret hideout chamber in the woods, where Eisenheim tells of his plans to go to China to learn more magic and Sophie promises to go with him.
On the day that they are going to leave, however, the police come looking for Sophie. The two hide in the secret room and Sophie begs Eisenheim to make them both disappear. He is unable to fulfill this request and the two are separated.
Eisenheim leaves his village to travel the world; he perfects his magic and returns 15 years later as a master illusionist. He meets Sophie at one of his performances, when she is volunteered by the ruthless Crown Prince Leopold as a reluctant participant in a trick. He soon learns that Sophie is expected to marry the Crown Prince, who purportedly has a history of abuse towards women.
Eisenheim and Sophie, having recognized each other, meet privately, whereupon it is revealed that Sophie still has the locket he made for her years ago. After humiliating the Crown Prince during a private show, Eisenheim finds his hit performance shut out of Vienna. When Sophie comes to offer him help, the two at first fight, but Eisenheim soon kisses her, leading to the consummation of their relationship and the realization that they are still in love after all this time.
She also knows that the Crown Prince will view her as disposable if she leaves him for another man, and that he will have both her and Eisenheim followed and killed in order to protect his ego. Leopold finds out from Uhl, who was following the couple, that Sophie has met with Eisenheim.
While drunk, Leopold confronts Sophie and accuses her of being a whore. She tells him that she will not marry him or have anything to do with his plan. When she attempts to leave, he appears to murder her in the stables with a sword cut across her neck. Wracked with grief, Eisenheim prepares a new kind of magic show, using mysterious equipment and Chinese stagehands. Eisenheim purchases a run-down theater and opens a new performance. During his show, Eisenheim apparently summons spirits, leading many to believe that he possesses supernatural powers.
During this show, Eisenheim summons the spirit of Sophie who says someone in the theater murdered her, panicking Leopold. Uhl pleads with Eisenheim to stop, but Eisenheim refuses.
Inspector Uhl first searches for Eisenheim at his house. At this point, we return to the first scene of the movie. As the Army arrives at his Palace to arrest him, Leopold shoots himself in despair after angrily denouncing democracy, saying that there were "too many voices clamoring to be heard", and that nothing would get done.
In the next scene, Uhl is shown leaving the Imperial Palace. After he takes a few steps, a boy Elias Bauer runs up to hand him a folio labeled "Orange Tree. Uhl demands to know where the child obtained the folio; the child reveals that Eisenheim had given it to him. Uhl spots Eisenheim wearing a disguise and follows him to the train station.
And while one may think that Uhl would be enraged at Eisenheim, he is actually very much amused. Meanwhile, Eisenheim is seen walking up to a house in the country where Sophie is waiting for him. See also.