Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Title: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Director: Terry Gilliam
Released: 2009
Staring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law

Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: Doctor Parnassus (Plummer) is the leader of a travelling theatre troupe and having made a deal with the devil (Waits) years before, has gained the ability to allow members of the audience to explore the wildest parts of thier imaginations, by travelling through his magic mirror. The group however is soon thrown into disarray when they rescue Tony (Ledger) who despite claiming to have amnesia, hides his own set of secrets, setting to work as a barker for the show, while meanwhile the devil returns with a new wager for Parnassus to help him save the soul of his daughter Valentina (Cole).

Review: It’s been awhile but it’s safe to say that Terry Gilliam, has finally returned to his fantastical roots, after having spent what seems like an eternity hanging around in the real world, rather than the fantastical landscapes he showed us during the early years of his career with “Time Bandits” (1981), “Brazil” (1985) and the seriously underrated “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988), which it could be said was responsible for Gilliam shifting his focus into the real world to begin with, especially more so when the film is frequently seen as the black mark on his career, thanks largely to numerous problems it suffered during production.
Despite this shift in focus, Gilliam has continued to make exciting an interesting films and personally I was excited to see him return to his more fantastical self, which could be said is due to the the mixed and frequently controversial reaction recived by his last film “Tideland” (2005).

Despite the film suffering a major set back, with the sudden death of Heath Ledger, an event which lead to Gilliam hiring Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law to fill in the breaks in filming, which after seeing the finished film it would appear to luckily be, from what I can see, to be mainly the scenes in which Ledgers character journeys into the Imaginarium with members of the audience, acting as their guide through the fantastical world, with these three taking on his guise, but due to the way which Gilliam sets these scenes up, it’s almost as if he planned it all along, for Tony’s features to change with every trip he takes in the Imaginarium, only to return to his original face upon leaving. Still these moments also seem to mark out different aspects of Tony’s personality such as his womanising charm (Depp), his desire to raise his social profile (Law) and finally his ruthless nature (Farrell) especially when it comes to keeping his secret which is hinted at throughout. Still as creative as this idea is, it does however make the portrayal of Tony, extremely uneven with Depp and Ledger having fun with the character, while both Farrell and Law struggling to portray their respected sides, making me wish that they’d just let Depp handle these scenes, especially when he sets the bar to high for both Farrell and Law to follow, even if Farrell does provide several great moments, the more frustrated and overwhelmed he becomes during this final trip inside the Imaginarium.
The rest of the cast are none the less surprising with the casting choices, with Troyer clearly greatful to break away from being Mini me / drunk reality TV star as he embraces the chance at a rare serious role, while model turned actress Cole gives a great playful performance as Valentina as does Waits as the devil, a role it would seem he was born to play, as he lurks always in the background, teasing and playing with Parnassus while truly coming alive during his scenes in the Imaginarium, were he frequently turns up in the most unusual of places, frequently becoming part of the scenery, as he attempts to lure the souls of the visitors to the Imaginarium, as part of the on going game between himself and Parnassus.

It’s clear from the start that Gilliam is doing something for himself with this film, even more so with the Imaginarium scenes, which are almost like taking a trip inside the brain of Gilliam, especially seeing how these parts are when he truly lets his creativity loose, with each trip seemingly being tailored to suit the visitor, with a materialistic woman finding a land of over sized shoes and jewellery, while for a young box it becomes more of a giant balloon popping game. Even the real world, he has still found a way to bring some magic to the screen, with the giant lumbering horse drawn carriage, which folds out to create the stage the troupe form upon and it’s a fascinating creation, from the moment we first see it slowly moving down the streets of London, which was also when I found my first disappointment with the film, finding that the film is actually set in a modern day London, free from any form of fantastical elements, outside of the ones being brought by Parnassus and while it’s true that it makes the world inside the Imaginarium, all the more fantastical it did however feel like Gilliam wasn’t quite ready to fully to commit himself to a fully submerse world, like he did with his earlier films in particular “Brazil” which not only presented a strange and fantastical world (while also strangely playing like it was the missing Monty Python movie), but sucked you into this world allowing you to completely loose yourself in the story, were as the constant switches often prove distracting with your trip to through the imaginarium often cut short, though despite this it’s clear that Gilliam has still not lost his keen eye for the more fantastical elements.

While it might not be the last great Heath Ledger some of us were hoping for, it is still a fascinating film and nice to see Gilliam once again flexing his creative muscle, which certainly welcome, especially when the new wave of visionary directors such as Spike Jonze and David Fincher continue to become more mainstream with each film they make, it’s nice to know that Gilliam is still making films which still push visuals and storytelling in increasingly new and interesting directions and while it might not be his best work, it is thankfully a step back towards doing what he does best.


  1. I'll probably see this one somewhere down the line, but I'm not too excited about it. It really looks like it has impressive visuals and I couldn't complain about the cast either, but there's just something about it that throws me off.

  2. I get like that about David Lynch movies. Don't get me wrong I like quite a few of his movies and I think he's a facinating guy, I just don't feel the urge to rush out and see every movie he makes and prefer instead to stumble into them.

    True it could be argued that it is too much style over substance, but for me it's all about the ride.

  3. It's always great to see a legend like Ledger, say his final good-bye. It's a real real shame.

  4. I'm glad that Gilliam got to work with Ledger, especially as he was easily comparable with Johnny Depp, especially when it came to his fearless nature with the material he choose to work with and I'm sure his final perfomances, will still be looked at years from now, as we wonder what could have been.


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