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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

A 2009 fantasy film directed by Terry Gilliam.

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3 ½ Stars: Imagination is Only The Beginning As You Wager With The Devil...

  • May 7, 2010

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 have indeed asked me to take a look at this film. I am going into this film with no expectations and I am quite fond of films that are very different and filled with allegories for the esoteric few.
An immortal man who had several run-ins with the devil called “Nick” (played by Tom Waits), Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is stuck with a traveling troupe that is made up of his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), a sleight of hand expert named Anton (Andrew Garfield) and his close confidant Percy (Verne Troyer, Austin Powers 2). They roll across London in an old wagon pulled by horses as they try to entice the locals to pass through a mirror that allows one to access the world of pure imagination and desires.
Business isn’t exactly booming, but Parnassus finds inspiration when the troupe comes a suicidal man with amnesia named Tony Shepherd (Heath Ledger) who joins them in their journey and becomes their most valuable member. Now “Mr. Nick” returns to collect on some past debts, Parnassus must try to save his daughter as Tony experiences some new sensations on the other side of the mirror; his appearance becomes altered (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell play the “imaginary” Tony) as he tries to escape his past mistakes in the real world…
         Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus, Lily Cole as Valentina and Andrew Garfield as Anton in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."

                         Tom Waits as Mr. Nick and Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."

          Verne Troyer as Percy, Andrew Garfield as Anton, Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus, Lily Cole as Valentina and Heath Ledger as Tony in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."
We all know that Gilliam’s storytelling style can get cryptic, muddy and sometimes alienating so this comes as no surprise. To appreciate the “Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” one has to be a little familiar with the way he lays out his vision. I think this is an attempt to express that child-like interpretation that some of us hold inside. Gilliam knows that the world of fantasy gives us little to no limits in visionary ambition. So prepare to have your senses overloaded as the director does give his audience a visually stunning film that is intended to be as such.
The style of the visuals comes as something rather quirky and exudes that “funhouse” atmosphere that may either alienate or impress the viewer. There are some really nice scenes in “Dr. Parnassus” from a visual standpoint as we see this “imaginarium” that may or may not be a taste of your own personal interpretation of heaven as we see the people being faced by choices that can alter their reality. The film is rich in symbolism so make sure you pay attention. The pipe that Tony uses to brace his windpipe on the noose represents his character, the shoes, the mucky pond that has photos of Princess Di, James Dean and one other I cannot recall; and the babushka represent man’s feeble desires. See the “Imaginarium” as a part of one’s consciousness; as each duality is represented as a part of creation itself. The film also has a story of the monks that practiced telling the story of this Earth as it sustains it; stop talking and the world may implode. The mirror represents the reflection of one‘s soul. Every Love and happiness has a pain, every demon has to come out of a dark pit, every good has a bad, and even escape has a price that may prove to be too high a price.
                   Lily Cole as Valentina and Colin Farrell as Imaginarium Tony 3 in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."
                            Jude Law as Imaginarium Tony 2 in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."

       Heath Ledger as Tony in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."

The characters are quirky and bizarre in many ways. You do feel that they feel that the magic has been lost in this modern world which is why they seem so out of place. Magic must evolve with the people who can believe in them. Heath Ledger’s performance was a little uneven but I thought it was still good. Johnny Depp is charismatic as always while Jude Law and Colin Farrell made for convincing “imaginary” Tony’s. Lily Cole is damn too pretty as her presence threatens to eat up the screen but she does manage to work the best in her role. Christopher Plummer has that weird, eccentric look about him and I enjoyed his character of an eccentric immortal.

                   Lily Cole as Valentina in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."
I guess I cannot really fault the direction for trying to be as magical as it can be yet for some reason the magic gets a little fuzzy in the process that it never really went the way it should have. But isn’t magic something to be bought into anyway? I guess if the film had a flaw, it may have become too quirky for its own good and never lets the emotions of each scene be absorbed by the viewer. The screenplay went from point one to point two in a hurry and then begins point three only to downplay it in favor for point four. I know it can be alienating but such is Gilliam’s work; this I think is part of his creative flair. Gilliam does drive his storytelling to the areas of a parable, and he is relentless in pursuing this style. It may occasionally fail to impress and rather alienate but at least Gilliam sticks to what he likes.
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” isn’t one of Gilliam’s best films but it is better than I thought it would be. It is also a good “warm up” for his next movie “Don Quixote”. Please keep in mind that Ledger never finished this film, but thank goodness the film made it work. It is all after all in one’s imagination…where even death isn’t permanent.
Recommended Timidly, Rental First is Advisable [3 ½ Stars]

HYPE LEVEL: The Movie was released in as a limited run and while the Hype was there it didn't exactly raise my expectations too much. The film does fulfill its Hype to the Terry Gilliam fan but it does also disappoint those who expected much of Ledger's last movie that the film's publicists tried to capitalize on.


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May 11, 2010
I liked this film and the performances, but over all I was disappointed that Gilliam was basically re-treading familiar territory. Nothing here shone with his usual brilliant creativity and most of the visuals were basically CGI versions of things he'd already done in his years with Monty Python. Plus, parts of it were just kind of dull and didn't draw me in.
May 10, 2010
Excellent review WP, I want to see this one real bad. Rental it seems like.
May 10, 2010
Wise choice. I liked this movie but I cannot say that it would be worth the purchase.
May 09, 2010
Thanks for your insight on this, Woo. I saw this when it was released in the States and being that this was my first Terry Gilliam film, I was confused as heck. I thought it was filmed gorgeously though. Guess I'll have to check out his other films. Thanks, Woo!
May 10, 2010
I remember you commenting in one of my reviews about this. I just took much longer to make time to see it. You should check out 12 Monkeys if you haven't already...
May 11, 2010
That's what I told her. I think "12 Monkeys" is the perfect way to introduce a newbie to Gilliam. I'd suggest following that up with some Monty Python and then "Brazil".
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 . 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 . March 25, 2011
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 …
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.
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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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