The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

After ages of neglect, I’m back with another review to reclaim what is rightfully mine. Can’t think of anything else to put here. Kthanxbye!

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

As I’ve said before on this very blog, I’m not the biggest Gilliam fan out there. I can appreciate his brilliant visual style, I’ve always found very little actual substance underneath the surface gloss. It’s hard to explain, but I always feel that something is off-kilter whilst watching a Gilliam production- be it purposeful or not, it still irks me slightly.

“Nothing is permanent, not even death.”

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) leads a travelling theatre troupe with a difference: they transport audiences into a realm of strange wonders. But he risks losing the soul of his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) in a bet with the Devil (Tom Waits) that newcomer Tony (Heath Ledger) might help or hinder. I liked the story and loved the Faustian element to it all (Doctor Faustus is probably my favourite of “the classics”). I know you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead (although- what the fuck are they going to do about it?) but Heath Ledger was pretty average as Tony. Maybe it’s because I was so blown away by his Joker portrayal but I expected fantastic things from Mr. Ledger rather than Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein (from A Knight’s Tale) with the word “mate” thrown in on occasion. Lily Cole surprised me with her ability to actually act (although her unusual facial structure kept reminding me of that creepy Chris Cunningham PlayStation ad) However, Tom Waits stole every scene he was in, with his portrayal of the Devil. He was amazing.

The big thing people want to find out about the film is how the story was affected by Ledger’s death. Many know that Ledger’s friends- Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped in to complete the late actor’s unfinished scenes. To be honest, if I hadn’t known that Ledger had died, I would have thought that the “changing faces” thing was completely organic. It works really well. However, I wasn’t really that impressed with Johnny Depp, Jude Law or Colin Farrell in their scenes. Jude Law was pretty bland, Colin Farrell was, well Colin Farrell with a funny wig and Johnny Depp managed to squeeze in a bit of Jack Sparrow in the 5 or so minutes he was on screen.

…Doctor Parnassus is an odd film, in the best sense of the word. What I really liked about it was the contrast between the fantastical and the banal. For instance, when the travelling Imaginarium pulled up in a Homebase car park, it brought a wide smile to my face. I was less impressed with the CGI-tastic imaginations, as I felt that while the ideas on display were brilliant (that multi-faced Parnassus balloon will haunt my every waking moment) the CGI was done on the cheap side and it looked a bit ropey at times. Having said that, the dance between Valentina and the Devil with the broken mirror shards was fantastically done.

“Can you put a price on your dreams?”

I enjoyed …Doctor Parnassus quite a lot. It had a fun story, some truly astounding set design and ideas and Tom Waits as the motherhumpin’ Devil. I get the feeling I may have to watch it again to fully appreciate what was going on, but I was definitely entertained.

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