David’s Review of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

30 Sep

Sunday night I got a sneak peek of Terry Gilliam’s new movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. I have been anxiously awaiting this film since I first heard about it several years ago, and began perspiring with anticipation when the trailer was released recently.  It looked like the Terry Gilliam we all know and love had come back to us.  While still being far and away better films than the ones Hollywood spits out at us every week, his last few films (The Brothers Grimm, Tideland) were not quite up to par with his earlier masterpieces.  With The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, all of the pieces finally came together when Gilliam was given final cut, an incredible cast, and the help of his old writing partner Charles McKeown (who last collaborated with Gilliam on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen).  Consequently, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus looks and feels like a Gilliam film from the 1980’s, in the absolutely best way possible of course.imaginarium_of_doctor_parnassus

The story centers around the 1,000 year old Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), who runs a traveling entertainment stage show called “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”.  Helping out in the performance and maintenance of the show are his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), a young man named Anton (Andrew Garfield), and the Doctor’s immortal assistant Percy (Verne Troyer).  Their act is not very successful and everyone involved seems to be considerably less than satisfied.  Their unhappiness is mostly do to the influence of the devil (Tom Waits), who goes by the name Mr. Nick.  The real story gets going when it is revealed that the Doctor made a deal with Mr. Nick to relinquish his daughter’s soul when she turns 16.  At the same time, the crew of the Imaginarium discovers a mysterious stranger hanging from a bridge, cue dramatic music, and Heath Ledger enters the film.

Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus

Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus

That’s about as much as you can see in the trailer and read in the IMDB synopsis, so I won’t give anything else away.  Suffice to say, this is a Terry Gilliam story through and through.  It’s magical, beautiful, terrifying, makes more sense if you know what certain Tarot cards signify, and is rather confusing at the end.  But, somehow, when Gilliam takes all those elements and mixes them with his own incredibly unique visual style it all turns out as close to perfect as movies get these days.

Obviously, a lot of people are going to see this movie because it was Heath Ledger’s last film.  And that is a good reason to see it.  He’s great in it.  I could very easily have written this entire thing on the tragedy of Ledger’s death, how it affected the film, and so on and so forth.  But this movie deserves to be more than “The Last Film Heath Ledger Made”.  It’s better than that.  Ledger was a part.  The three men who play his character in the fantasy world he travels to (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) are parts of that.  But they are not the whole.  Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits are at the top of their game.  Verne Troyer gives what is undoubtedly his absolute best performance.  It was shocking, in fact.  I never would have guessed, not in a million years, that Mini-Me would be the emotional center of a fantastically good film.  Gilliam also got amazing acting out of relatively new performers Andrew Garfield and Lily Cole, who showed that modeling is not even close to the end of her talents.  Everyone who acted in this movie did a top-notch job.  But they are all just a part of this masterpiece, not the whole.  This movie is bigger than the individuals who make up the cast.  This is a beautiful and incredibly imaginative story that we have been given the opportunity to watch through the eyes of Terry Gilliam.  And that is a gift.  Believe me.

Lily Cole as Valentina

Lily Cole as Valentina

For those of you who are familiar with Gilliam I will tell you that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has a typical Gilliam ending.  For those of you not familiar, don’t expect to totally “get” the ending right away.  This isn’t your everyday throwaway crap movie that you leave the theater and forget about on the way home.  You’ll be thinking about it and processing it for a little while.  Please, don’t let that discourage you from seeing it.  You’ll definitely enjoy this.  Whether everything falls into place perfectly for you or not, you’ll enjoy the movie immensely.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is set to have a limited release on Christmas Day this year.  If you are in one of those limited cities this would be a perfect way to celebrate Christmas this year.  Let me know what you think.

P.S. For anybody that has seen Time Bandits, there is a temple in this film that looks a lot like the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness.  If anybody else thinks they are the same building, tell me.  I think they might be, slightly reworked of course.

Heath Ledger as Tony, the mysterious stranger

Heath Ledger as Tony, the mysterious stranger


One Response to “David’s Review of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”


  1. Happy Thanksgiving! « Lara And The Reel Boy - November 26, 2009

    […]  Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is coming out this year. Imaginarium of Doctor […]

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