Monday, December 14, 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus



  • Released Internationally on 16/10/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 25/11/09


In a nutshell

From the skewed vision of Terry Gilliam comes an eccentric fantasy tale that, whether audiences warm to it or not, will be remembered as the film Heath Ledger was acting in when he died.

An inconvenient truth

Having completed his seminal work on The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger moved onto a smaller British project. He had completed about half of his scenes when he was found dead, and during the media frenzy that ensued, this film was put on hold. Not one to be outdone, director Terry Gilliam eventually saw the film through to completion. One would have to assume that the intentions were three-fold: to bring Ledger’s final work to his audience, for artistic reasons – so that the project is completed, and probably financial reasons – so as not to waste all the pre-production and work that had been done up to his death.

The what of whom?

The film is a bizarre and colourfully imagined fairytale, as one would expect from the creative mind of director Terry Gilliam. Originally famous as the sixth member of Monty Python, and the man responsible for all their zany animations, and for directing their feature films, Gilliam has continued to direct, with his films varying in content from the complex science fiction of Twelve Monkeys to the grey paranoia of Brazil. Here he conceives a travelling roadside theatre troupe in present-day London, which offers audiences the chance to wander through their own imagination and choose between enlightenment and temptation. No, this is not a true story.


The basic plot premise is that the ancient Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer – The Insider, Up) once made a deal with the devil, and the devil has now returned to claim Parnassus’ daughter on her 16th birthday, as agreed. The bet is re-negotiated, however, and Parnassus and ‘Mr. Nick’, the devil, must try to seduce five souls as they traverse through the ‘imaginarium’. First to five wins, and gets the girl. The road-show picks up an apparently amnesiac stranger (Ledger) who proves skilful in drawing crowds and might help Parnassus win the wager.


The much-publicized method of completing the film despite Ledger’s demise was roping in Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farell to complete his role, something that it was claimed would fit into the narrative due to its fantasy nature. We quickly realise how when the first unlucky guy to stroll through Parnassus’ shiny curtains somehow changes appearance halfway through the imagination sequence. The high-calibre Ledger replacements do their job nicely, also due to the superficial resemblance to Ledger once make-up and styling have their say, but the end result is often distracting and ultimately detrimental to the film.

In the end

Worth seeing, if only for Ledger’s final performance and a taste of Gilliam’s vivid imagination, but overall a very disjointed and often absurd film. With so much craziness happening on screen, one needs a constant backbone as a point of reference – however one such constant went missing, and the film suffers as a result.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

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