REVIEW: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

6 09 2010

With the sense of wonder of a child and the intelligence of an adult, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a truly dazzling film. From the mind of Terry Gilliam, this Faustian fairy tale indulges our imaginations, often growing dusty from years without activity and becoming more seldomly used with each technological advance and each passing year. I feel like I saw in this movie what the multitudes saw in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but I found the bubbly exuberance on display here was ultimately much more winning.

The titular Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is traveling England doing an antiquated theater and magic show in a horse-and-buggy. He has sold his soul to Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), an incarnation of the Devil, to counteract the immortality he won from the big red guy down below in a bet several hundred years before. Parnassus soon has to give back his 16-year-old daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), to Nick, and he’s especially dreary given those circumstances. It doesn’t help that his “imaginarium” has become somewhat of a laughing stock.

But everything changes when they rescue a hanging man (Heath Ledger), later discovered to be a philanthropist named Tony. Parnassus’ crew discovers first, though, that Tony has a true knack for the theatrical, and he revolutionizes their marketing approach. Soon enough, all sorts of high-class mall shoppers are entering their mysterious mirror into a world of untapped imagination. But soon enough, they find out that Tony was involved some shady dealings, and the troupe is subsequently brought into this world of danger along with their newest member.

The movie has the unfortunate distinction of being Heath Ledger’s final role. As it was widely publicized, he was still in the middle of filming this movie when he passed. While his performance as the anarchical The Joker will forever make him an icon and legend in cinematic history, it was a role that certainly did not represent Ledger’s off-screen personality. As the mysterious Tony, all the charm and artistry that made him one of the movies’ golden boys is on display. It’s really comforting to know that Ledger’s final movie shows us the Ledger we want to remember.

I was worried that the movie would be too much of a memorial to Ledger and that Gilliam couldn’t figure out a way to downplay his death. His solution is executed with poise, having Ledger play Tony in the real world and three capable actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) play different incarnations of him inside the mirror. Depp, Law, and Farrell are all great, bringing their distinctive acting skills to the role while also keeping in line with Ledger’s version of the character. It’s also nice to know that their dedication extends beyond the screen as they all donated their salaries for the movie to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.

But let’s not dwell on the past too much because this movie gives us a great opportunity to look forward to the future. “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is one of the first roles for Andrew Garfield, recently cast in the reboot of the Spider-Man series. Audiences will probably look back and see “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network” as the movies in which they discovered him, but here we get a very nice introduction to the actor who is poised to make a big splash in Hollywood. With charisma, nobility, and sensibility, not so unlike Ledger, Garfield should be a welcome addition to Hollywood’s A-list.  A- /


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2 responses

6 09 2010
Harry

Loved this movie. I wasn’t sure about the ending, and I’m still not, but the rest of the movie was so good, and so well done that I didn’t let that dampen my feelings. Heath was awesome, and Terry Gilliam is a great director.

8 09 2010
Brian

Glad more people are seeing this film. Outstanding piece of work. The transition from Ledger to Depp/Ferrell/Law is exquisite.

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