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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

A 2009 fantasy film directed by Terry Gilliam.

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Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus... a dream world of pure fantasy

  • Mar 25, 2011
  • by
If given the opportunity to walk into your own wildest dreams, would you take it? Would you walk through a mirror, into the unknown, unaware of the actions or consequences of what that journey might be, and just hoping to come out the other side as close to the same as you went in? What if there was an incredibly attractive person sweet talking you into the idea? Terry Gilliam's film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is an interesting twist to the story of deals made with the devil. It is a little hard to watch at times, and at others the visual content over powers the story itself leaving you feeling almost dizzy. The film feels like a bit of a mash-up of the visual styles of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro, with a clear sense of madness present within each of his characters.

Heath Ledger plays Tony, who it seems all on his own embodies a collective of characters previously played by Johnny Depp. It was odd to watch him speaking like Jack Sparrow, and yet having Willy Wonka and even the Mad Hatter coming through. It was almost as though he modeled his character primarily off the works of the other actor, or rather that director Terry Gilliam had modeled this particular character after friend and actor Johnny Depp. I feel puzzled as to where the choice came from or if it was just something that might become apparent to only some, and yet I also question if it may have been caused by the extreme measures that had to be taken to complete the film after the unfortunate passing of Heath Ledger during production.

Ever since news was released regarding how Mr. Gilliam planned to complete the film I was a little hesitant as to how he would be able to pull off having one character played by 4 different actors. In a weird way Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell all have similarities that could make it a little easier for them to play the same character, but I questioned whether or not it would be effective or if it would hurt the film. If you have read any news on Mr. Gilliam's choice to use these particular actors you will know that it was done because these men were friends of the late actor, and the choice to keep it "in the family" was made out of respect for Ledger with the film being dedicated to him upon its release. It is touching to know that so many people offered to step up to the plate and help the production when the tragic news haulted the film, and even more so to know that Ledger had touched so many people's hearts and particularly that a director would turn down so many people and only choose someone that knew and could honor the memory of such an amazingly talented actor in the way that he should be remembered. Depp, Law and Farrell channeled Ledger in every sense, with hair and make-up added into the mix to help with the visual aspect. I just wonder what it meant to these actors to have such a weight placed on their shoulders to pull off this particular type of role. It was not just the role of a character, but also the role of upholding the memory of a fallen actor in his final role.

The world of the imaginarium, or rather what we see from inside Doctor Parnassus' head, is truly a fantasy world fit for any child's wildest imagination. This is the world in which we find Depp, Law and Farrell. Each time Tony walks through the mirror and enters the imaginarium, we are given a different glimpse of who he is and his face is never the same. The first Imaginarium Tony is played by Johnny Depp and in this world it is an upper east side class of woman that he entertains with his charm and good looks. The second imaginarium Tony is played by Jude Law, and in this we see the scheming, sly character in which we begin to see the true colors of who Tony really is. The third imaginarium Tony is played by Colin Farrell and it is at this point when Doctor Parnassus' daughter has fallen for the sweet talker and it is only through the help of another member of the traveling circus, Anton, do we finally see just who Tony is.

The sometimes overwhelming visuals highlight the traveling show and the magic of the imagination. I found that I sometimes needed to dig through the images to find the cast, even though I knew that on their own they would stand strong. The traveling show's crew was graciously made of up such talent as Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus, supermodel Lily Cole as his young daughter Valentina, Andrew Garfield as Anton, and Verne Troyer as Percy. They are later joined by the collective cast of Tony's, and even Tom Waits who plays Mr. Nick whom Doctor Parnassus places bets with the devil for life, love and even his daughter's freedom. It is the ever betting man and his wagers with the devil that lead the story through Terry Gilliam's wild imaginarium.

As a whole the film is worth watching just to see what wild things Terry Gilliam can come up with. The actor's performances are great when you can see them, but the ever changing visuals sometimes become too much and you have to look away if only for a second. I would give this film a 3 out of 5 for story, but a 4 out of 5 for originality and imagery. As dedicated to Heath Ledger, the actors help up their part of the bargain and gave you a deep character that makes you think about life. Thank you Heath for such a great performance. You are surely missed as a shinning star and great talent.

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More The Imaginarium of Doctor Parn... reviews
review by . January 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Desired more from Doctor Parnassus and his Imaginarium
   I knew very little about this film when I went to the theaters to see it. I had seen a couple of previews online, which got me excited. The movie looked very promising. I expected a fantasy/science fiction adventure with performances that were going to blow my mind away. Instead, I left the theater feeling disappointed and confused. I kept asking myself, "Is that it?"      The special affects and computer animated scenes were truly exceptional. When characters …
review by . May 07, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
3 ½ Stars:
   As much as I admire the style and finesse Terry Gilliam brings in his filmmaking, I find that his final product in direction is more or less a hit or a miss. I loved “12 Monkeys” and “the Fisher King” wasn’t too shabby as I can remember. I was however real disappointed with “The Brothers Grimm” that I avoided “Tideland”. Well, I gave Gilliam’s latest movie a shot since the reception is somewhat of a mixed bag and a lot of people …
review by . August 09, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I liked the premise of the movie.  Basically, a deal with the devil is struck and that when the deal maker's child(ren) reached 16 years old, they became the property of the devil himself.  In turn, the deal maker would have immortality.      There is a great case of characters in this movie:  Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrel, Jude Law and Heath Ledger (in his last film where he passed during the filming and was covered by the previously …
review by . May 08, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Terry Gilliam remains one of the more idiosyncratic and creative writer/director/producer phenomenons in the business. His ability as an illustrator and as a satirist date back to his college years at Occidental College in Los Angeles where he daily startled students and faulty alike with his broad but biting and well groomed antics. For this viewer THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS is one of his strongest forays in the field that can only be described as the Gilliam Genre. He combines a superb …
review by . April 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
As you probably can tell, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is one odd movie. I think it's worth checking out, but I'm not yet sold on it. The plot is essentially a fairy tale of a man who made a bet with the devil He and his traveling troupe possess a mirror into a bizarre world in which people are forced to make a choice between good and evil.     Visually, the film is stunning. It contrasts the drab reality with the vivid colors of the mirror world. The movie also does keep …
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This film was hard to understand but it was enjoyable. I liked the charachters and the magic
Quick Tip by . July 10, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A fantastic movie and a tribute to how great the late Heath Ledger truly was.Do not do drugs before watching.
review by . July 01, 2010
If there is one thing the British are good at, that would be making very original movies, and none excel at this better than Terry Gilliam. Their latest release is this combination of drama, fantasy, action and comedy. Starring a cast of many famous actors, this movie is probably the biggest release so far for the red-headed beauty Lily Cole. Like all of Gilliam's movies, this one deals with fantasy but is ultimately about relationships, and what one does for love and friendship. Unlike Gilliam's …
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This movie was very disappointing!
Quick Tip by . May 05, 2010
I love Gilliam's work & I'm a fan of all the actors, but this left me cold. The effects are great, but as Ledger's last film it's a letdown.
About the reviewer
Hannah aka Angry Penguin ()
Ranked #109
I am a film fanatic, constantly watching films new and old. When not watching movies I'm reading YA lit or sci-fi/fantasy novels, or working on completing my own book.      If … more
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About this movie


The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a 2009 fantasy film directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Gilliam and Charles McKeown. The film follows the leader of a travelling theatre troupe who, having made a deal with the Devil, takes audience members through a magical mirror to explore their imaginations.

Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, and Heath Ledger star in the film, though Ledger's death one-third of the way through filming caused production to be temporarily suspended. Ledger's role was recast with Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell portraying transformations of Ledger's character Tony as he travels through a dream world.

The film's world premiere was during the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, out of competition. The UK release of the film was scheduled for 6 June 2009 but pushed back to 16 October 2009 due to its successful premiere at Cannes. The film was given a limited release in the US on Christmas Day 2009 and a wide release on 8 January 2010.
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Director: Terry Gilliam
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Release Date: January 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: April 27, 2010
Runtime: 123 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
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