DVD Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Note: I don’t typically write full-length reviews of movies that are no longer in theaters as I feel that immediacy is a large part of a movie review’s relevance.  I’m making an exception for this one, though, as it comes out on DVD in a couple of days and a 100-word blurb would simply not do my feelings on the film justice.  After all, this is my blog so the only rules I’m breaking are my own.  Enjoy the review.

I popped The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus into my DVD player fully expecting to hate it and hit the eject button after about 20 minutes or so, headache and all.  As you can tell (since you’re reading this review), I didn’t.  I could not take my eyes off the screen as the film grabbed my attention and would not let go.

You see, I’m not a huge fan of writer/director Terry Gilliam.  Even his supposed masterpieces, like Brazil or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, are film’s I’ve never quite adored.  For me, his work falls into the Tim Burton realm of being too aesthetically bloated with all narrative attention being put on the back-burner.  With Parnassus he manages to harness his visual creativity and combine it with a deservedly poignant story.  That’s why I’m calling this movie his Big Fish.

The always wonderful Christopher Plummer (The Insider, The New World) stars as Doctor Parnassus and heads what is a traveling circus of sorts.  His crew is rounded out by his feisty sidekick (Verne Troyer, aka “Mini-Me”), his daughter and a young man infatuated with her.  The main attraction of their show is a mirror that serves as a portal into a fantasy world where Parnassus can guide the imagination of its visitors.  Business isn’t exactly booming, but that’s the least of his worries.  Once upon a time, Parnassus made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits, The Book of Eli) to exchange his daughter on her 16th birthday in return for immortality.  It’s nearing collection time.

The troupe also takes in a mysterious outsider in the form of Heath Ledger.  He offers some great ideas toimprove the business, but he’s got some dark secrets of his own.  But alas, Parnassus is offered one last chance to redeem himself and keep his daughter by the devil who seems to have a bit of a gambling problem.

Heath Ledger delivers the type of quality performance we have grown to expect from him.  Much of his banter is supposedly improvised and it is truly a joy to watch.  It’s a shame to think about how many more great performances like this he had in him but we will never have the privilege of seeing.  Sorry, I’m greedy.  Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell finished the job for Ledger and appear as his character in the fantasy scenes, with Farrell’s portion being easily the meatiest of the bunch.  These fantasy sequences are amazingly imaginative, absolutely stunning visually and best of all, I never felt like I was watching a video game.  That’s more than I can say for Avatar.

Perhaps what surprised me most about the movie was the performance of model-turned-acting newcomer Lily Cole as Parnassus’s daughter.  She’s a brilliant combination of sassiness and sheltered innocence, and she’s got that whole weird-hot thing going for her which doesn’t hurt.  She’s quite intriguing and definitely someone to keep an eye out for in the future.

There’s a brief moment near the end where the film started to lose me for a bit before ultimately wrapping things up nicely, but I would not hesitate to watch it again at some point in the (hopefully) very near future.  I’m not sure exactly what we’re supposed to take away from this adventure besides the not-so-breaking news that making deals with the devil is never a good idea, but here’s a thought:  You’d be surprised how similar four ridiculously handsome men can look when wearing eyeliner, pony-tails and matching facial hair.

Among the slew of DVD special features is a brief interview with Heath Ledger regarding his decision to work with Gilliam again after their collaborative 2005 disaster, The Brothers Grim.  He offers some interesting thoughts on how “success” should be measured and defined.  There is also an introduction from Gilliam explaining the sentiment behind calling it “A Film from Heath Ledger and Friends” as opposed to the more traditional “A Film by Terry Gilliam” in the closing credits.  He talks about how the crew was faced with the unenviable task of creating a film deserving of being forever remembered as Heath Ledger’s last.  I’d say that did a pretty good job.

Rating: 8/10

RIYL: 8 1/2, Big Fish, Being John Malkovich (anything from Charlie Kaufman really).

3 Responses to “DVD Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”
  1. CMrok93 says:

    It’s a real shame that Heath had to go, with this movie, we can already tell that his talent was so rare.

  2. Simon Ripley says:

    I loved this movie too, especially Lily Cole, who up until then I only knew as that chick who was going to be in that ever-fermenting Marilyn Manson movie about Lewis Caroll. Heath Ledger is always good, but knowing the significance of this movie being his last, it was distracting.

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