The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – Review



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Heath Ledger’s final film showcases his talent, along with that of his friends…

Creating a film that mixes the modern world with fairytale undertones is a pill that some people may find hard to swallow. When you add onto that a story that feels complete, while at the same time almost leaves you feeling you missed something, well, you basically know coming out of the gate that everyone isn’t going to be leaving the theatre happy. And such is the case with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

This doesn’t make one who enjoys the film any more intelligent than one who doesn’t, as is often the argument in cases with films like this; films that leave the viewer pondering various scenes and lines of dialogue, trying to put everything together in order to see the bigger picture, the full story – in their eyes – as it was meant to be seen, others may not think it was done well enough to warrant thoughts after the credits begin to roll.

To me, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus succeeded in telling a tale of fantastical proportions, using imagery that feels as though it could only exist in ones imagination or dreams. The tale itself is about a man named Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), and his quest to undo the wrongs in his life before they catch up to him and take away the one thing he did right. At an earlier age, the young doctor made a deal with the Devil for immortality, though the Devil always seemingly one step ahead had his own reasons for making such a deal. Centuries down the line the doctor had grown older, if not only in appearance, when he met a young woman and instantly fell in love. Doctor Parnassus was quick to make another deal with the Devil: youth in exchange for his immortality. In exchange? Any daughter Parnassus had would belong to the Devil on her 16th birthday.

With that date only a few days away when the movie begins, Parnassus tries to do everything he can to save his daughter, which doesn’t seem to amount to much due to being in an often found drunken stupor over his past choices. The Devil, ever the one to want to play games and make wagers, makes a bet with Parnassus that the first one to gain five souls before his daughter’s birthday would get to claim her as the prize. With no other choice, Parnassus quickly agrees and the deal is set.

In order to gain a soul, Doctor Parnassus uses his magical ability to bring one’s imagination to life, and give them the chance to choose the side of right or wrong. Though, as the Devil knows, the world is not what it used to be, and in a modernized world where Gucci bags and cell phones reign supreme, people are less open to the unknown and Doctor Parnassus and his traveling Imaginarium are looked at as circus freaks.

Enter a stranger (Heath Ledger) who can’t remember who he is, though finds himself quite good at being charming, as well as up to date as to what people want, and Doctor Parnassus may have found just the edge he needs in order to finally make things right.

That’s just a brief idea at the story the film is trying to tell, though the complexities delve further, and the hidden meanings, and things one may bring out of the theatre with them will differ depending on the viewer. It’s the type of film where multiple viewings will definitely help tell the story, and help you notice things you definitely missed the first time through. Is this fair? Well, to some it is; to others, they’d rather get the whole story the first time, and I believe enough of it is told that you can enjoy it in one sitting, while additional viewings should only bring more to the table.

As far as performances go The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is filled with great ones. As most know, this was Heath Ledger’s final performance, as he died during filming. With the final production of the film in jeopardy, Ledger’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell stepped up to finish the role played by Ledger in the film.

One may ask how this is possible, though with how the story comes together, adding three new actors for one role actually comes off in quite the smooth transition; so well, in fact, it almost gives off the feeling it was written that way.

Of course, if Ledger had been able to finish the role himself one can only imagine the effect it may have had on the film. At times it feels like there are a few scenes missing with Ledger that would have helped to flesh out his character and plot overall, but given the circumstances, Terry Gilliam made as well-rounded a picture as he could.

Ledger himself is great, and one may feel the need to say that because its his final role, and because of all the hype surrounding his second most recent performance in The Dark Knight, but it’s true. There will be a lot of people who will see this movie just because he’s in it, but this also proves to be a distraction. It doesn’t actually hinder the movie, but one can’t help but be brought back into reality once Ledger is seen on screen, knowing this is his last hurrah.

Depp, Law and Farrell all fall into their roles perfectly, and while their onscreen time is minimal, it adds just the right flavours in just the right portions. Plummer does a great job as Doctor Parnassus, though a real stand out is Tom Waits as Mr. Nick (aka: The Devil). He’s got a sly aura around him, and you just feel he’s always just teasing Parnassus in their scenes together, as though he knows how everything will play out and he just wants to have fun with the old man for all eternity. Finally, Lily Cole, who does fine work playing the doctor’s daughter, Valentina, has a unique, mystical look to her, that just fits right into the fantasy themes of the movie.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the type of movie that, when reviewing, is hard to describe because so much of the story involves things that just have to be seen, and other things that you don’t want to spoil. On that note, be warned, that it’s not the type of film where everything is laid out neatly for the viewer. By the time the credits roll you may be sitting in your seat trying to decipher everything and piece it together. But if that’s something you enjoy then be prepared to be taken on quite an gratifying ride.


Director: Terry Gilliam
Notable Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell
Writers: Terry Gilliam and &Charles McKeown

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