The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus Review: Tripping The Light Eclectic

October 12, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews


THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR PARNASSUS: On General Release across the UK from Friday 16th October 2009

You can’t help but picture Terry Gilliam’s directorial career as a long lost Python sketch.

A calamity-fallen expressionist playwright who’s only left more and more exasperated by the ludicrous, surreal and often pointless machinations of an ever escalating series of interfering busy bodies.

Initially it was interpersonal quarrels, then the interruptions of snooty finger-wagging studio producers, until finally the highest power going (yes, there’s something more autonomous and terrifying than corporate bigwigs) stuck his deistical oar in to nab the life of his lead star.

You can already see the giant comedy foot come crashing down onto the finished film reel the day he finally completes a hassle-free production.

While The Imaginarium of Dr Paranassus is yet another example of Gilliam’s now trademark haphazard tonality, its beleaguered production has also inadvertently lent itself to producing one of his best.

The seemingly immortal Dr Parnassus is a crestfallen, often drunk monk who decided to give up his meditative life to experience true love, travel the world and ensure that the whimsical, magical nature of storytelling never truly vanishes. While his true love passed away long ago, he now leads a ramshackle theatre troupe that consists of his beautiful daughter Valentina (Cole), dwarf Percy (Troyer) and Oliver Twist knock off, cheeky trickster Anton (Garfield).

The Travelling Troupe

The only thing is, Parnassus made a deal with the devil aeons ago that will see its pay-off result in ol’ Beezlebub claiming Valentina for himself upon her 16th birthday – unless Parnassus can collect five souls with the use of his magic mirror (which grants each user a walkway into their own personal heaven) before the devil does.

When the gang rescue the mysterious, supposedly amnesiac Tony from certain death, they soon realise the stranger could soon spell either the key to their survival… or downfall.

After reading that, it’s fitting that one of the first lines to mumble forth from Parnassus is directed as much at the audience as the bewildered policeman confronted with the ramshackle travelling production: “Don’t worry if you don’t understand it all at once.”

As anyone who has seen a Gilliam film before will know, he’s a master of the intoxicating visual if not necessarily the streamlined plot. Ledger’s untimely death has obviously led to a further tangential approach, but the much mooted addition of Law, Depp and Farrell is woven in surprisingly well. Depp and Farrell competently acquit themselves to Ledger’s character, pulling off the slippery complexity needed to delve into the moments of exposition, but the less said about Law the better.

The plot itself will likely leave you scratching your head, but with its sumptuous and deliciously realised dreamworlds, polished performances (Lily Cole in particularly impresses with a fiery, spunky turn) and fantastically headtrippy explorations of love, life and storytelling, you’ll not only forgive the occasionally baffling moments of self indulgence, you’ll want to watch it over and again to rediscover the ride.

Ultimately, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is like the ‘village fete fireworks display’ of fantasy movies.

There are Disney-bright bursts of goosebump-sparkling wonderment and moments of bedazzling, infectious joy, but there are also more than a few noticeable damp squibs and misfires along the way.

That said, Gilliam himself has professed that after Ledger’s death, the production became as much about crafting a suitably respectful and worthy tribute to the life and career of the main man as it was just completing production.

A mixture of fresh talent, occasionally misplaced enthusiasm, the odd frustrating disappointment, and fantastical bursts of creativity wrapped up in a beautiful visual package.

Surely there’s really no truer or more apt reflection of Ledger’s own life and career that that?

Matt Risley

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