By Dave Campbell | January 8, 2010
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam; Charles McKeown
Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus follows the tale of Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), an aging God-like deity who acts as a tour guide in the imaginations and dreams of his audience. Joined by his sleight of hand expert, Anton (Andrew Garfield), his wing-man dwarf, Percy (Verne Troyer), and rescued outsider Tony (Heath Ledger) who they found left for dead, Doctor Parnassus and his traveling Imaginarium theatre street show draw on small crowds are made up of pub-crawlers, pedestrians, and consumers who happen to cross the path of the Imaginarium as it travels the underbelly cobble streets of London. Viewers are offered an opportunity to face their own character reflection in Parnassus’ mirror and choose the path of light or be tempted by the lure of darkness and Mr Nick (Tom Waits) aka the Devil.
Despite all of this, Parnassus must face his own cursed secrets as he and Mr. Nick are involved in a game of gambles going back thousands of years where Parnassus won immortality. Hundreds of years later Parnassus meets his one true love and makes another deal with Nick to swap his immortality for youth. Nick takes the deal but with one condition; if Parnassus and his love conceive a daughter she will become the property of Mr Nick on her 16th birthday. As it would happen, Parnassus did end up having an daughter named Valentina (Lily Cole)…and the milestone of her 16th year is quickly approaching.
Desperate to prevent Valentina from being taking by Mr. Nick, Dr. Parnassus intervenes just as Mr. Nick arrives to collect. Always willing to gamble, he negotiates a new bet wagering the fate of Valentina. The first one to seduce five souls who enter the Imaginarium mirror wins. What follows is a playfully humorous cat and mouse between two rivaled colleagues filled with the oddities and wonderment of each soul. As an incentive, Dr. Parnassus offers his daughter’s hand the gentleman who aides in his success.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is an enchanted dream-scape of endless possibility wrapped in a mindf$@k of limitless wonder. Terry Gilliam’s universe falls somewhere between those of Tim Burton and David Lynch while standing out all on it’s own. The entire cast (Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law) was nicely chosen with Lily Cole in particular being uniquely captivating and whimsical. Though the story tends to slow once we reach the middle and spend awhile in “reality”, the land of imagination really comes alive in the third act putting all movie viewing senses on 11.
This surreal tale is Terry Gilliam in the purest sense. Uninhibited, he overcomes the tragic passing of Heath Ledger by letting his own imagination propel him past his cursed history to expand the storytelling even further. It really makes me wonder if Gilliam made his own deals with the devil in the past which lead to all of personal film making obstacles over the years. If so this film is in great parallel to his own reality and Gilliam has finally won.