The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusJanuary 8, 2010
A traveling theater company gives its audience much more than they were expecting.
Release Year: 2009
Rating: 7.0/10 (63,932 voted)
Critic's Score: 65/100
Stars: Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Heath Ledger
In London, the sideshow troupe of Doctor Parnassus promises the audience a journey to the "Imaginarium", an imaginary world commanded by the mind of Doctor Parnassus, where dreams come true. In the stories that Doctor Parnassus tells to his daughter Valentina, the midget Percy, and his assistant Anton, he claims to have lived for more than one thousand years; However, when he fell in love with a mortal woman, he made a deal with the devil (Mr. Nick), trading his immortality for youth. As part of the bargain, he promised his son or daughter to Mr. Nick on their sixteenth birthday. Valentina is now almost to the doomed age and Doctor Parnassus makes a new bet with Mr. Nick, whoever seduces five souls in the Imaginarium will have Valentina as a prize. Meanwhile the troupe rescues Tony, a young man that was hanged on a bridge by the Russians. Tony was chased until he finds and joins the group…
Writers: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
Friend of Martin
Face Changed Martin
(as Simon Daye)
Release Date: 8 January 2010
Filming Locations: Battersea Power Station, Battersea, London, England, UK
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: £905,786
(18 October 2009)
(27 May 2010)
Did You Know?
One of Tom Waits' most infamous music videos is for his song "God's Away On Business". Waits plays the Devil in this film. In both this film and in the music video, he makes use of a black umbrella.
Crew or equipment visible:
At the part where Tony (played by Colin Farrell) and Valentina are in the Gondola, there is a shadow of someone walking behind the screen, in the back, between when they are talking about how perfect it is and that they have to make a choice.
I only have three words to say: Well done, Tony!
The whole is not the sum of the parts – at least not on a single viewing
Like so many of Terry Gilliam's films The Imaginarium Of Doctor
Parnassus is one that is going to need multiple viewings to truly form
an opinion on. Like Brazil, Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, Fisher
King, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas and Tideland (even Time Bandits
really) there is so much going on here that expectations or reputations
get in the way and make it hard to digest and appreciate on a single
viewing. No bad thing necessarily.
Of course Parnassus has the particularly insurmountable problem of
being the late Heath Ledger's final performance and following on from
his superb, Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight. It is impossible to
see the film through eyes that don't see it as the film he died making.
Some parts of the film may perhaps work even better than they may of
done had he lived some of the best films are triumphs over adversity
and adverse conditions don't come much greater than your star dying
mid-shoot. But whatever works and doesn't in the film it is hard
impossible on a first viewing to divorce yourself from the knowledge
you bring into the theatre.
On first feeling Parnassus seems patchy, and curiously it feels like a
film that may not have worked as well as it does had nothing happened
to Ledger. Don't get me wrong I'd rather have a Gilliam failure and
Ledger still alive to put it behind him and move on than a wonderful
film that is largely the result of his tragic death. But we don't have
that so I'm just looking at what's there.
The fact is the film is at it's best when galloping around the
fantastical worlds of the Imaginarium, with Ledger's character Tony now
played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Depp and Farrell are
particularly good and imbue the film with an energy lacking in much of
The casting generally is good. Christopher Plummer is steadfast
excellence as always. Lily Cole is a surprisingly strong choice. I've
never understood the viewpoint of Cole as "sooooooo beautiful" that the
gossip sheets and magazines espouse but she has a quirky intrigue that
works wonders in a Gilliam world and proves herself as an actress
amongst a proved group of impressive performers. Hers is probably the
best debut performance I can recall of a model or singer turning to
acting. She puts a lot of professional actresses (no Keiras named!) to
Andrew Garfield is that intriguing mix of annoying and brilliant. Like
DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? I started out thinking he was
terrible and then grew to realise it was just that I hated him, his
character. He annoyed the hell out of me. In another words he had
inhabited the character so fully, so convincingly that my negative
feelings toward him where directed at the fictional character. A superb
Tom Waits steals moments constantly. Waits hasn't been given such a
juicy role that fit him better since Renfield in Coppola's Dracula and
he revels as Dr Nick (the devil) here.
Oddly the performance that, again I specify on first viewing, leaves
you a bit underwhelmed is Ledgers. It is not a bad performance but the
expectations as you go in, knowing it was his last performance, means
you expect something special. Brokeback Mountain/Dark Knight special.
But of course not every role is as powerful as his in Brokeback or as
scene-stealing as the Joker. I mean he didn't know it was his last
performance for crying out loud. Therefore it cannot possibly live up
to expectations and is destined to underwhelm until multiple viewings
and some distance allow it to be judged fairly. That there was such a
fully formed character there that three other actors could step in to
play alternate universe versions of it entirely convincingly is
arguably a testament to how strong a performance Ledger did give. It is
not a likable character or a flashy character (it doesn't even really
seem the main character until the alternate worlds with the alternate
Tonys come in) and so Ledger's understated subtleties are easy to miss.
When you watch Fisher King the first time you remember Robin Williams,
not Jeff Bridges. In Twelve Monkeys it's Brad Pitt that comes away with
you not Bruce Willis. And yet on further viewings Bridges' performance
seems superb, Willis' perhaps the best of his career. I suspect on
repeated viewings I'm going to see the strength of Ledger's performance
better. I hope so.
And of course this is a problem much of the film has. Gilliam doesn't
make simple, overly explained films for the masses thank Gilliam
you have to work with them. The problem here is that with your mind
distracted with thoughts of Ledger and expectations built on that
promise of Gilliam at his creative best, three step-in performances and
Ledger's final performance it's hard to get your mind around the story
and enjoy it as a piece of work.
Sometimes Gilliam films work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they get
better and better on repeat viewings (Brazil); sometimes they work
instantly (Twelve Monkeys); sometimes they seem to work but the more
you see them or think about them they crumble and ultimately don't
(Brothers Grimm). Sometimes they just seem to be a mix of great ideas,
wonderful performances and ingenious set pieces but hampered by an
overabundance of theatricality and almost too much going on for its own
good (Baron Munchausen). On a first viewing Imaginarium Of Doctor
Parnassus feels like this latter. Bits work, bits don't. It's enjoyable
in places but perplexing ultimately.
I will definitely revisit it though to see if changes on repeat
viewings. I feel sure it will, but whether that's a good or bad thing,
well, I'll have to wait and see.