"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" Movie Review (2010)

1/15/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"

Directed by Terry Gilliam, Written by Gilliam and Charles McKeown, 122 minutes, Rated PG-13.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is 1,000 years old. Decades ago he made a deal with the devil (here called Mr. Nick, played by Tom Waits) that granted him eternal life with the only condition being that any of his offspring would belong to Mr. Nick after their 16th birthday. Time has passed and Parnassus is running a sideshow in modern London, where he invites passersby to enter a mirror upon his stage that takes them into his Imaginarium, an intriguing and visually fascinating world where whatever you can imagine will come true. He has a daughter named Valentina (Lily Cole) who will turn 16 in just a few days, and Mr. Nick is ready to collect.

But the crafty devil has one more proposition for the century-old troupe leader--Valentina may be free if Parnassus is the first to collect five souls (via the Imaginarium).

As the wager begins, the troupe also happens along a mysterious stranger named Tony (the late, great Heath Ledger in his final film role), who ultimately has a much greater fate with Parnassus and Mr. Nick than anyone may expect.

The film follows closely in the vein of director Terry Gilliam's previous work--the frequent contrast between vibrant and dreary, gothic colors, an absurdist sensibility, very dark humor--except this time, he's gone far more autobiographical than he ever has before. Quite basically, Parnassus represents the current state in Gilliam's career. He's an old man--his wild and fun flights of fancy and imagination have stopped appealling to the modern world. The young Tony comes around and modernizes the doctor's show, but it becomes far less creative and mystical in the process. Gilliam also makes a point that imagination (or, perhaps more appropriately, storytelling) is what maintains the existence of our universe.

The cast is pretty magnificent all-around, but Tom Waits is the definite stand-out as Mr. Nick. He's charming, funny, but consistently sly and intimidating. He's one of Gilliam's most interesting characters.

Obviously one cannot discuss the film with acknowledging what is surely the main point of discussion for most, and that's the final performance of Heath Ledger. I'm happy to say that he was certainly at the top of his game here, possessing that classic charm that he displayed early in his career but also the quiet mysteriousness of his last few roles. His untimely death caused a lot of problems for the film's production and it was nearly cancelled, but Gilliam strove to complete the film, if anything simply for Ledger's memory.

The result of this drastic turnaround in production has some positives and negatives. Some of the film seems clearly slopped around to make up for things potentially due to Ledger's absence. Even so, Gilliam brought on three other actors to portray transformed versions of Ledger's character during the film's imaginarium sequences--Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, three of Ledger's friends who obviously are great performers in their own right.

While this may seem odd at first, it's employed surprisingly well and Gilliam did some rewrites that seem to almost convey the character's story better than he might have before. What it basically comes down to is that each actor winds up representing some major aspect of Tony's personality--his charm (Depp), his ambition (Law), and his immorality (Farrell), and each actor is practically the perfect choice for each.

Gilliam has had a rough 10 years, with most of his features getting far from warm embraces from audiences and critics alike, but I believe he's ended the decade with what is easily one of his seminal works. He has shown what imagination and storytelling means to him, and he's made one of his best films in the process.

Grade: A

View the trailer for "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" below. What are your thoughts?

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  1. helobuff said...

    You have peaked my interest in the movie here.. Now on my must see list! The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnusses! Thanks.

  2. jewelknits said...

    The visuals alone are stunning. Combined with the cast and the storyline, this is NOT a "wait 'til it comes out on DVD" type of movie; it's a definite "see in the theater" type of movie. Thanks for the review and the look at the trailer.

    jewell330 at aim dot com

  3. Anonymous said...

    I appreciate the review, but don't think you know what "seminal" means.

  4. Anonymous said...

    I loved your blog. Thank you.