The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole
Plot: A traveling theater company gives its audience much more than they were expecting.
Genre: Adventure / Fantasy / Mystery
Awards: Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design.
Rating: NC16 for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Can an old man whose curse is being immortal take you to faraway lands where imagination meets surrealism, where the mere sight of otherworldly yet familiar symbolic representations of reality is able to make a grown man squeal in orgasmic delight? If your believe so, then take a peek into the looking glass as created by one of the old masters of fantastical artisticism – Terry Gilliam.
Gilliam, whose film credits include masterpieces such as Monty Python and the HolyGrail (1975) and Twelve Monkeys (1995), is also capable of unspeakable duds such as Tideland (2005), and The Brothers Grimm (2005). His new film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, sees the auteur back in fine “auteur” form. It is the kind of film which reminds us that no matter how frustratingly bohemian some of his pictures are, the fierce dedication to his unique filmic vision of the abovementioned fantastical artisticism is often understated and not fully appreciated.
Heath Ledger’s death made things difficult for Gilliam. However, he benefited from the goodwill of Ledger’s friends – Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law – who volunteered to take over the role of Tony in different parts of the film to complete its production. Ledger’s acting is less showy here than in his Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2007). This allows Ledger’s acting substitutes to adequately portray Tony without the fear of unevenness in performances.
The screenplay is somewhat of an “organized mess”. It moves the narrative along, but some parts are incomprehensible (not that I really bother). In one scene, a black river turns into a huge serpent-like creature with the face of Mr. Nick a.k.a the Devil (as played by Tom Waits). It surveys two characters in the scene before morphing back as the black river again. Is there significance to this action? Only Gilliam knows.
The core story involves Doctor Parnassus’ (Christopher Plummer) dealings with Mr. Nick. A pact is made – if Parnassus manages to seduce five souls into their world of fantasy before the latter does, then his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), will be freed. Tony’s involvement becomes a little more than a sideshow. His friendship with Parnassus is questionable, and his motives are never always revealed. Though his love for Valentina is obvious, the ambiguity of his character makes things more complex than they appear to be.
Gilliam has (old)-fashioned a tale consisting of oddball characters set in an urban landscape. He does it to varying success. The narrative may be occasionally weak, but the director’s one-of-a-kind filmic vision teleports us to his world of beautiful and grotesque imagery with the level of skill associated with a master craftsman. The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is a showpiece reminding that the Gilliam of old could just be in line for a timely resurrection.
GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)
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