September 10, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Title: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Starring: Heath Ledger, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Lily Cole, and Tom Waits
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown
Released: Davis Films (2010)
Genre: Fantasy

Terry Gilliam strikes me as one of those cats who makes art out of the pure joy from the craft, and people don't like what he puts out there for public consumption ... well, they can go f-ck themselves. I'm sure he's polite about it, but he definitely seems like a director who marches to his own drum. Watch Brazil sometime if you don't think so.

I was up for seeing this movie when I first heard about it, but the mainstream media's attention seemed focused solely on the fact that this was the last film on which Heath Ledger worked before he died. As swiftly as the film went into theaters, it was shuffled out. Unlike the morbid fascination people held for Ledger's remarkable performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, there didn't seem to be much interest in the actual subject matter of this fantastical tale.

In a contemporary London setting, a small caravan arrives to put on a show. It feels like the kind of minstrel show with a young man and woman (Andrew Garfield and Lily Cole)--and Verne Troyer--dressed in fancy costumes and introducing a gray-bearded mystic known as Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). A mild amusement for passers-by, unless their twenty-something drunkards spilling out of a nightclub. The drunks are more content to harang the old fellow than listen to whatever prophetic wisdom he has to share. The one who harasses the young woman in costume winds up behind a mirror on stage, and after passing through it finds himself in a strange dreamland where dreams and nightmares can come true. It also happens to be the subconsciousness of Doctor Parnassus, from what I gather.

So, the fantasy elements are established early on, followed by the introduction of Heath Ledger as the charming amnesiac who joins their band. He winds up being recruited to help Parnassus in a wager with the Devil (Tom Waits) for a number of souls. The first one to five wins Lily Cole's character, Parnassus' daughter.

The whole movie plays out like a fable with some familiar plot points, but with some extraordinary twists and dazzling costumes and set design. Though, a lot of that in the dreamworld is strictly CGI. And despite the death of Ledger, the movie is spared any truly distracting interruptions as Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell portray his character at different points within the dreamworld behind the mirror. Had it not been a matter of necessity, I'd say Gilliam would have been wise to go that route even if Ledger hadn't died.

It's a fun and rewarding movie, I think. The performances will switch tempo from time to time, ranging from subdued and organic to pure theatrics that play to the cameras. It might feel like a mish-mash to some, but I enjoyed it. The only real criticism I have concerns the very end when the mood of the film takes a sudden dark turn that came out of nowhere, which took me out of the movie for a bit. All in all, it's worth checking out if you get a chance.


  1. Ah, I love Terry Gilliam....
    My favorite film of all-time, The Fisher King, comes from his warped mind.

    I've got this one towards the top of my rental queue, as well.

  2. I saw this recently and I think your review is spot on. It worked really well to have different actors play the Heath Ledger character in the dreamworld. Each actor fit the situation well, too. Johnny Depp playing the charming likable one, Jude Law the one you weren't quite sure about, and Colin Farrell the scuzzy version.

    Tom Waits made a terrific Devil.

  3. I'm so glad you reviewed this movie. I haven't been at all sure whether to watch it or not, I've heard so many mixed reviews, but after reading yours I am going to give it a go - after all, anything starring Johnny Depp is a thumbs up in my book!

  4. Andrew - I can't remember how long it's been since I saw The Fisher King.

    Sonya - Tom Waits was the perfect Devil for that movie. :)

    Akasha - I suspect you'll enjoy it thoroughly.