Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus


It’s always difficult writing a review for a film where I don’t know entirely what happened, but that is the case with most of Terry Gilliam’s works.

By now everyone knows that the main story about The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus has more to do with its lead actor than with the story itself. This is Heath Ledger’s final cinematic role, as he died from a drug overdose during production. Production was shut down for a few months and then started up when the combination of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell agreed to complete his role. While this sounds like it would make the viewing experience awkward and unrealistic, keep in mind this is a Gilliam project after all, and he does make it work in a way.

Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is about a thousand years old at this point and is immortal. He also has the ability to guide the imagination of anyone that walks through his magical mirror. He attained his supernatural abilities via a deal with the devil in which the prize for the devil is Parnassus’ daughter Valentina (Lily Cole).

Parnassus travels around as a troupe that includes his daughter, another more natural magician Anton (Andrew Garfield) and a dwarf named Percy (Verne Troyer). Together they put on street shows in order to get money but after hundreds of years Parnassus has been unable to adapt to the public and is really just tired of it all at this point. The only light in his life is his daughter, whom the devil (Tom Waits) has come to collect.

Along the way they find Tony (Heath Ledger) hanging by the neck under a bridge and they save him and have him join the troupe. (Yes, it is explained how he survived.)  At this point Parnassus is dealing with a number of different problems:  he makes a new bet with the devil in order to try and save his daughter, both his daughter and Anton are considering leaving the troupe, and he can’t decide whether or not Tony can be trusted.

This film is not without its bizarre special effects, abundant color palette and wide camera shots, all to be expected from a Gilliam film. Terry Gilliam has a similar style in most of his films which sometimes works (Twelve Monkeys, Brazil, Time Bandits) but a lot of times does not.  Dr Parnassus does not work for me and I don’t think it’s due to the tragic loss of Heath Ledger.

Ledger is full of energy and amusing dialog here but the story is just all over the place. There is very little structure and I could hardly ever tell what was going on or what the characters were feeling. It seemed like random events were happening just for the sake of needing something to happen. I was not even that impressed visually, which was a major let down.

The only real highlight here for me was Heath Ledger and the connection between Parnassus and the devil. Both actors are great in their respective roles with a lot of scene stealing one liners. Die hard Terry Gilliam fans should enjoy this but those on the fence probably won’t. Unfortunately I feel that much like Parnassus himself; Gilliam may have finally lost his edge.

2 / 5 stars

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