The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

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One of us is not of this world...
One of us is not of this world…

Twitter Plot Summary: Parnassus is immortal after a deal with the Devil. He will lose this when his daughter is 16. Guess which birthday is coming up for her?

Genre: Adventure/Fantasy/Mystery

Director: Terry Gilliam

Key Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer.

Five Point Summary:

1. Lily Cole looks like an ALIEN!
2. Verne Troyer: Legend.
3. Gilliam crossed with modern Britain = very peculiar.
4. This is a very dapper Devil.
5. Did I mention that Lily Cole looks like an ALIEN?!

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 15 August 2010.

Doctor Parnassus (as I will conveniently abbreviate the title as) was always going to be an awkward film to watch. Not so much for the plot or the actors or the frankly superb directorial abilities of Terry Gilliam, but for the fact this was Heath Ledger’s last film. I was unsure if the story would work bearing in mind he didn’t shoot everything, but I am happy to report that the film does mostly work, at least from a narrative perspective.

In brief, Christopher Plummer is some immortal chap who does a deal with the Devil, quite literally, some time in the past. They have an ongoing game taking place between them, which culminates in the pair of them fighting to steal or coerce five souls into joining their side by the time Plummer’s daughter turns 16. Although clearly the spoon-faced actress playing the character, Lily Cole, seems older than this anyway. She’s a good actor but she looks a bit like her mother was inseminated by some alien creature. It’s the only explanation I have for her MASSIVE forehead.

Now, either I wasn’t paying enough attention when watching the film, or they didn’t really explain why all of this was going on. I think I was focusing on either the strange combination of Terry Gilliam visuals with the normal world – more on the normal world stuff later- or I was overly concerned with the aforementioned spoon-faced actor (seriously, it freaks me out). You could argue that Gilliam is emphasising the differences between the real world and the world inside the mirror, but seeing Homebase so brazenly promoted feels a bit iffy. I’ve always thought of Gilliam films as existing in a completely separate universe to our own, so combining the two is a little jarring.

Good performances all round from Christopher Plummer, Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man, fact fans), Lily Cole, Tom Waits as Mr Nick – The Devil in other words – a great character with no real expectation to win, he’s more interested in the game itself; and of course Heath Ledger. He showed a lot of personality as a secondary focal point of the story, the fabulously named Tony. Tony is in effect a con artist (his backstory is slowly revealed, calling into question if he really did have amnesia at the beginning of the film). Strictly speaking the film is really about Plummer’s character and his struggle with mortality/immortality. You might even say that Tony is a cut-price Parnassus, in that he gives off the impression of morality when in fact he’s just looking after himself.

Even better was Verne Troyer as the equally fabulously named Percy. His character is a long time companion of Dr Parnassus who doesn’t degrade into a farcical character. He is in essence the little voice in Parnassus’ head that keeps him afloat on the high seas of morality. Many a time does Parnassus need someone to confide in, or someone to bounce an idea off to make sure he’s doing the right thing. And pretty much every time it’s Percy who’s there being a physical moral compass.

Heath receives some upsetting news. He won't be reprising his role as The Joker.
Heath receives some upsetting news. He won’t be reprising his role as The Joker.

The sequences from within the mirror, all featuring Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell (“my wife said you weren’t a very good acterrr, and I agreed with herrrr.”). Whilst each actor does a sufficient job with the role, at the same time the change in the character’s face is a little jarring, none more so than Colin Farrell, who gets a much extended sequence at the climax of the film. The sequence goes on for so long that I had already started to forget the good work that everybody else had put in up to that point. I can’t blame him per se, I thought he did a good job in Phone Booth (yes, I enjoyed that film. Somebody had to), I just don’t think the script was quite as strong as it should have been for the climax of the movie.

Okay, I get that the whole hanging Heath Ledger thing from the start of the film is an elaborate scheme of smoke and mirrors (with a brass pipe thing that stops his neck snapping or other such nonsense), but there were so many switches and reversals it was hard to keep track of who was good and who was bad. Who exactly am I rooting for in all of this? Perhaps the point at this stage was we’re not supposed to be rooting for anyone. Perhaps they’re all various shades of grey and ultimately as long as Christopher Plummer’s character gets some resolution then all is well. Hmm. Saying that, whilst the whole dream sequence stuff is a slightly confusing mess, the conclusion of the story puts all the characters where they deserve to be, and satisfies the need for a happy ending, of sorts.

In many ways it’s a classic Terry Gilliam film, with heavy doses of fantasy mercilessly dropped into today’s modern world. It’s almost as jarring as the lead protagonist being played by four men – Homebase must have paid something towards the film as their logo is shamelessly flaunted on the screen about halfway through the film. It adds an air of realism to the surreal goings on of the Imaginarium, but to plug it so shamelessly took me out of the story for a good few minutes. I did also question why the troupe performed outside of a night club at the beginning of the film, a proper “fantasy meets reality” moment. It all becomes clear eventually.

Whilst this is certainly no Brazil or Twelve Monkeys (if you want the true Gilliam experience, rent or buy these two first), it holds its own in story terms and is reasonably solid despite the loss of Heath Ledger. The rest of the cast and crew pulled together admirably but its just a shame that it almost loses its way in the last 20 minutes.

Favourite scene: The first trip inside the Imaginarium. Gilliam at his finest.

Quote: “Don’t believe everything you read. Especially The Mirror.”

Silly Moment:  When they run out of Heath Ledger footage and have to use three other actors to portray the character.

Score: 3.5/5

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