The imaginarium of Dr Parnassus review

The imaginarium of Dr Parnassus review

Movie reviews: Terry Gilliam has always had a vividly imaginative approach to making films. When Heath Ledger died in the making of Dr Parnassus, the obvious solution was to split his character with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell…

review by Posy Hammond

In a drab London, filled with narrow minded people who have long since cast aside their sense of wonder, a travelling troupe of entertainers attempt to restore a little magic into the souls of those they can persuade to pass through the mirror of the Imaginarium, a ramshackle travelling sideshow. This is the world of Terry Gilliam’s new film, a movie that has drawn a lot of attention due to the untimely death of Heath Ledger during its filming.

Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is the leader of this travelling band, an inveterate gambler whose wagers with a vaudeville Satan called Mr Nick (Tom Waits) have given him immortality and, after thousands of years, a life with the woman of his dreams. The price for this last deal is a steep one however, and as the daughter of this union, Valentina (Lily Cole), nears her 16th birthday she is to become the prize of his old adversary. His last chance is a final wager and aided by his old friend Percy (Verne Troyer), young apprentice Anton (Andrew Garfield) and a mysterious, suicidal stranger called Tony (Heath Ledger) he must seduce five souls before Mr Nick can capture the same.

Terry Gilliam has always had a vividly imaginative approach to making films, and this is no exception. The mundane world of our own era is contrasted with the dizzying flights of fancy to be found in the worlds of the imagination that Dr Parnassus reveals to those he entices to partake of the Imaginarium. Here can be found wonderlands where Jellyfish fly through the sky, ladders reach the clouds and gondolas glide serenely through a fashionista’s shopping dream. There is much here that will be familiar to those who have seen earlier Gilliam films like Brazil and Baron Munchausen and one scene featuring cross dressing policeman could have been lifted straight from Monty Python.

As the story unfolds Tony visits the worlds revealed by Dr Parnassus himself and as he does is transformed, revealing more of his hidden nature with each journey. The death of Heath Ledger is dealt with by Tony undergoing a physical change on each visit, with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell representing the various facets of his personality. The performances of the cast are strong throughout, with some epic and entertaining playing from the bigger names underscored nicely by the supporting actors, in particular the sensitive portrayal of Anton by Andrew Garfield.

The film does have flaws. At times it can be a little self-indulgent and it does slow down for a while in the middle reel. Ultimately however it is a rewarding picture, with plenty to say on its themes of love, redemption and the power of the imagination. Why not spend a little time through the looking glass yourself?