IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, THE
The story of Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his extraordinary 'Imaginarium', a travelling show where members of the audience get an irresistible opportunity to choose between light and joy or darkness and gloom. But in his long past, Dr. Parnassus has made a deal with the devil, Mr Nick (Tom Waits), first for his immortality, and then for his youth, on the condition that when his daughter reaches her 16th birthday, she would become the property of Mr Nick. As Valentina (Lily Cole) approaches this 'coming of age' milestone, Dr. Parnassus is desperate to protect her from her impending fate - as Tony (Heath Ledger, Jude Law, Colin Farrell) comes dramatically into their lives and vies for her affection.
Review by Louise Keller:
Bizarre is the best word to describe Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, whose anticipation is exacerbated by its being the final acting platform for Heath Ledger. Gilliam has an imagination as ripe as David Lynch and a rather strange tale becomes stranger and stranger as we are prised into Doctor Parnassus' extraordinary fantasy world. This is a world that is accessed through a mirrored doorway and that transports us to a dreamland where lilies form stepping stones between giant stilettos and long skinny ladders are stilts through the clouds. The well documented participation of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell in Ledger's uncompleted role is never a problem. Far from it. It is almost one of the most inspired and interesting things about the film. It doesn't matter a damn. As for the rest of it, well, frankly my dear...
Immortality is a bloody curse, says Christopher Plummer's Doctor Parnassus, a Moses-like character who lives in fear resulting from the pact he made years ago with the Devil. The Devil, or Mr Nick (Tom Waits) is not your stereotypical satanic figure, but wears a hat, a bow tie and flaunts a cigarette holder. And he likes to gamble. I must admit to an eerie feeling when we first meet Heath Ledger's Tony. Wearing a 3-piece white suit, he is hanging under a bridge, noose tightly coiled around his neck. But he is not dead: he is saved. Tony quickly becomes part of the travelling theatre, spruiking for gullible paying audiences to be 'transported to the world of their imagination'. Lily Cole, the red-head with the striking heart-shaped face is wonderful as Valentina, the girl who inadvertently is the reason for it all. She has a great screen presence, combining vulnerability with a deep sense of maturity. Hers is the future Parnassus is desperately trying to protect; hers is the heart Tony and Andrew Garfield's Anton hope to win and hers is the life that Verne Troyer's midget Percy is watching over.
It's a strange film and although we are sucked in at the beginning - more in amazement and curiosity than anything else - we become indifferent and rather bored as the fantasy elements go awry. You can read as much or as little as you wish into the scenarios: there is certainly plenty to work with. There's a fabulous scene in which Valentina, wearing a symbolic red dress is running through a reality filled with fractured glass and mirrors. She then does a tango with The Devil. But it doesn't go anywhere. Much like the rest of the film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Fantasmagorical is the word that comes to mind, this lavishly bizarre and gloriously ramshackle film from Terry Gilliam, with its Victoriana design elements jutting into contempo London and the psychedelic world of Dr Parnassus' mind.... But wait, let's stay grounded, hard as it is to do. Visually and intellectually stimulating, the film is overshadowed by Heath Ledger's presence. His performance is marvellous but it wouldn't make the same impact had he lived. There is so much to this fantasy that individual performances are swallowed by the fantasmagoria. His death imposed a challenge and Gilliam took the brave road, retaining the Ledger scenes and reworking the screenplay to enable his character to undergo two new manifestations - by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Frankly, the device so suits the film that it's probably what he should have thought of in the first place. But Ledger had completed the meatier bits, and while both actors are great, it's Ledger we'll remember.
Christopher Plummer plays Dr Parnassus with a mix of King Lear and Faust, and Tom waits is devilishly, wickedley, chain smokingly, distractingly amusing as Mr Nick in a role that would sit well in a David Lynch movie. Indeed, the whole movie would sit well as a David Lynch movie. Lily Cole is mesmerisingly lovely as the 16 year old at the centre of the struggle between good and evil, and both Verne Toyer as Percy the dwarf (the Fool role in Lear) and especially Andrew Garfield as Anton, the lovesick actor in the troupe, pining for Valentina, make big impressions.
Dr Parnassus is the kind of film that a hard nosed cynic may dismiss as balderdash, but for a flight of imaginative fancy, the film is pretty well unparalleled, with breathtaking sequences that take place on the other side of the travelling show's silver mirror. Soaring imagination married to high end cinema craft makes these scenes achingly beautiful and quite unlike any other digitally enhanced or created work. And that's the film's great gift, it's unique vision and its total, brave and uncompromising commitment to it.
Email this article
IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, THE (PG)
CAST: Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Andrew Garfield, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Jude Law
PRODUCER: Terry Gilliam, Amy Gilliam, Samuel Hadida, William Vince
DIRECTOR: Terry Gilliam
SCRIPT: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nicola Pecarini
EDITOR: Mick Audsely
MUSIC: Mycheal Danna, Jeff Danna
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anastasia Masaro
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 29, 2009