Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus | Terry Gilliam, 2009

It took  me two views to come to appreciate Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It was the first Gilliam film that I had ever seen. The first time I was overwhelmed by the visuals, that I could not keep up with the story, and therefore, I felt bored and didn’t feel like watching it again. However, I decided to give it another go. This time, I decided to just sit back, clear my mind, and just let everything was over me. Then Brazil became one of my favorite film of all time. Since then, I’ve done the same thing when watching any Gilliam film, and that is probably the reason why I loved The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus so much.

Since people are better off just doing what I did, I’ll just give a brief rundown of the plot: Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), a former monk, once made a bet with the Devil (Tom Waits), he won, so he was granted immortality. Things happen, so he made a deal with him to grant him mortality and youth, in exchange that every child he has with whomever he marries, would be his at the age of 16. Now, he runs a traveling attraction with his daughter Valentina (Lilly Cole), his assistant Anton (Andrew Garfield) and his sidekick (Verne Troyer). In this show, the people are taken to their imagination, and their lives are changed. Now, Valentina’s 16th birthday is coming up, and Parnassus is given a chance to save his dauhter. But the encounter they have with the mysterious Tony (Heath Ledger), makes everything different.

This is without a doubt Gilliam’s best movie of this past decade. Sure, anything can be better than that, but I would put this up there with the likes of 12 Monkeys and The Adventures of Baron Munchaussen, but not quite as high as Brazil. Technically, it is truly a Gilliam film. The quirky sets, the flamboyant costumes, the WTF scenes, everything screams that it was made by him. Yet, no matter how extravagant things get, it does not overshadow the story. The parts set on the reals world, where the most important plot points happen, are grounded and the sets are only noticeable when needed.

As for the performances, the main cast does an outstanding job. Plummer gives a convincing and sometimes heartbreaking performance as Doctor Parnassus. Tom Waits is fun to watch as the devil. Lilly Cole does what she is supposed to do, and she does it well. Andrew Garfield meanwhile is very good, in fact it is the best performance in the entire film. His work here showed me that he has what it takes to play his character in Never Let Me Go. As for Heath Ledger, the person which made people aware of this, although he is good, the character is not quite as complex as The Joker or Enis Del Mar, but he does what he can with the character. The most interesting aspects of the role happen inside the imaginarium, and Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Collin Farrell do well enough, but Ledger would have done much better. Also, this concept of the character changing is kind of hard to accept when the other character that go into the imaginarium do not change. That is my only problem with the film, but I was able to ignore it, for the most part.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is not for everyone, particularly those that have not watched any of Gilliam’s early works. Even for those who have, this will be quite divisive. I personally enjoyed the creativity and the heart that was put into the film, something that the director’s most recent works have lacked. This is one of my favorite films of the year.


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