Title: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Year of Release: 2009
Date Viewed: October 9th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The following review has the potential to be mistaken for a thank-you card. There are times when my giddy affection for a movie can take over my objectivity. In the case this turns out to be one of those times, I would like to apologize beforehand while I am still sane enough to do so. In fact, I'll get my thanks out of the way first just to get it off the checklist.
Thank you, Terry Gilliam. I really needed this.
Set in London during an unspecified time period when everyone dressed in costumes more likely to be found at a Renaissance festival than the actual Renaissance, the titled Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his family of entertainers are the stars of their own traveling magic show, much like the kind found at carnivals. Except of course the magic is real. The Doctor's already extraordinary mind has the power to be linked to other minds. His show offers volunteers the chance to enter the Imaginarium room to explore a fantasy world from their own imaginations. A morality choice awaits them at the end of their journey. Making the correct choice would purify their minds and let them live life without care. The wrong choice would doom them. It's a system of conscious hypnosis.
Times are tough for the old doctor. And I mean OLD. His age is close to a thousand years. When you can brag that you outlived Yoda, you're the king of senior citizens for sure. How could he have lived so long? The trick is more complex than vitamin supplements. Long ago, he made a deal with the devil (Those never end well.) and won immortality. When he met his true love, a second deal was made that granted him youth. This one had a price attached. His first born child would become the devil's property when he/she reached the age of sixteen. The time leading up to the fateful day is soon approaching and the Doctor is mentally out of sorts. His fifteen-year-old daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) has her future hanging in the balance.
Following a show gone awry, the Doctor's family discover the body of a mysterious stranger (Heath Ledger) hanging from a rope underneath a bridge. After pulling him to safety, the stranger awakens without any memory of the events that led up to his attempted execution. He joins the cast of the traveling show and uses his charm to help maximize their revenue. Around this time, the devil returns to haunt the Doctor and claim his female prize. A third deal is wagered and it depended on the next Imaginarium volunteers. If five of them realize purification through their morality choices, Valentina will be spared. If five souls are collected by wrong choices first, Valentina will be collected.
The stranger's mysterious past begins to unravel at the most inconvenient of times. But he may be their only hope to influence five souls before the devil does.
Heath Ledger passed away before the filming of his scenes could be completed. Fortunately, the project was salvageable thanks to the story's fantasy rules. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell all appear in different scenes as Ledger's character inside the Imaginarium. To maintain continuity, each of the stranger's journeys inside these worlds are explored through different personalities designed to sway each subject's soul to the desired rite of passage. According to reports, the work provided by the three replacement actors was motivated solely by their respect for the late Heath Ledger. No payments were accepted.
Ledger himself still seemed to be detoxing himself from his Joker role. Some of his mannerisms gave off an eccentric vibe that seemed out of place. But this was in no way a poor performance. He delivered the right kind of charisma that this "tweener" character needed to be liked by the audience and irritating to his companions.
If you're the type of film fan that values creativity over everything else, this is the perfect movie for you. Early on, the story clues us in that real world rules do not apply and anything could happen at any time. Within five minutes, we already watch our first spectator take on their quest in the Imaginarium. The entire movie is full of Terry Gilliam's trademark quirkiness but the Imaginarium scenes are what steals the show, even from the actors. It's like watching an art painting with vibrant color overtones coming to life. According to interviews, several real paintings were the inspiration for some settings. Some of my more purist friends would slap me for even suggesting such a thing, but I would have loved to put on 3D glasses to enter these wonderful worlds. The presentation style almost looks three-dimensional by itself anyway. Why not make it official?
How cool is it to see Verne Troyer get a decent role again? He's actually doing things instead of getting kicked around all movie long. Good for him.
The writing is pretty solid and only shows signs of disorientation toward the finale. While not bad by any means, the ending was doomed to be a letdown since it had such a tough act to follow.
This movie was such a great way to rebound my mood after watching the uninspired Remember Me the night before. After the film had finished, a special line of text appeared on the screen.
A film from Heath Ledger and friends.
Whoa, hold on a minute. Just exactly how many "friends" do I need to write thank-you cards for?