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What's Up, Doc? The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus review!


The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam is one unlucky man. The mischievous visionary has run into terrible situations in recent projects, most notably the failed attempt to revive Don Quixote (documented in 2002’s “Lost in La Mancha”) and apparent schedule and budget constraints of 2005’s “The Brothers Grimm.” And then, the tragedy of Heath Ledger’s untimely death threatened to doom Gilliam’s latest film, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

The ingenious director was fortunate to complete the film while keeping most of Ledger’s performance intact. And with friends in high places along the lines of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell picking up where Ledger left off, Gilliam was able piece together this inspired fantasy, perhaps his best work since 1998's “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

While the film might be perceived as a swan song for Ledger (he has the honorary top billing), the star of this film is Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus. Parnassus leads ragtag assortment of carnies: the dwarf Percy (Verne Troyer), stray Anton (Andrew Garfield), and the Doctor’s beautiful daughter Valentina (Lily Cole). The crew travel around London hoping to earn a few quid finding an audience that will still listen to the tall tales of Parnassus’ adventures. But the main attraction of their show is a looking glass that transports people into the realm of their deepest fantasies and desires.

Along comes Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), a womanizing, swill-drinking, gambler who happens to be the devil himself. Dr. Parnassus, whose first wager against Mr. Nick rewarded him with immortality, was actually part of a double cross that has haunted him 1,000 years. Mr. Nick proposes a new bet that would save the soul of Valentina from a second gamble Dr. Parnassus had lost to the devil. This time, Dr. Parnassus needs to save five souls before Mr. Nick can sway them away in the imaginarium.

The stakes are raised when the carnies rescue Tony (Ledger) from a hanging. While greeted with suspicion by his rescuers, Tony’s seductive ways make him the main attraction of the Doctor’s show, as well a capturing the heart of Valentina. However, Tony’s own secret will play a part on who will ultimately win the bet.

With “Imaginarium,” Gilliam examines themes of immortality, the clashes between fantasy and reality, and the power of storytelling as the core of a man’s obsession. This film feels like a companion piece to 1988's “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” this contemporary take being less romantic and more “mature” (if that word could ever truly apply to Gilliam’s work). The film features an array of surreal inner worlds that could stem from an LSD trip. And for a movie that had to work its way around difficult circumstances, it feels complete and integral.

The acting is decent, the standout being Tom Waits as the double-crossing trickster Mr. Nick, whom Waits plays more Bukowski than monster. Newcomer Lily Cole is a delicate beauty who balances innocence and mischief gracefully. Christopher Plumber manages to add a touch of dignity to the stubborn doctor, while Verne Troyer is solid as the voice of empathy. Ledger seemed to have been having a good time with the theatricality and wickedness of Tony. Overall, in what appears to be a somber reminder of Ledger’s fate and Gilliam’s fortunes, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a pleasant celebration of the late actor’s talents, and with the potential revival of Gilliam’s Don Quixote project set for 2011, a sign of better days for this zany genius.


Official website:

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits

Source of the Bitter: John Rojas

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