The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The films that Terry Gilliam has directed run the gambit from crazy (The Fisher King) to crazier (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). In his latest directorial project, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, he really lets his freak flag fly and we the audience members are the better because of it.

The obvious part of the story revolves around an old school traveling theatre troupe that are out there trying to gather souls for the devil. This involves the use of a magic mirror that the intended inductees step through to realize their deepest desires and fantasies. The big evil is played with wicked charm by singer and sometimes actor Tom Waits.

The effect on the finished film that Heath Ledger’s involvement created must be mentioned when discussing the project. Apparently all of Heath’s scenes that were filmed outside were completed before his unfortunate death. The scenes that were yet to be filmed were the ones that take place in the fantasy world created behind the mirror. Friends of Ledger came to the rescue and took his place in those scenes to help complete the project. This solution comes across quite seamless and seeing Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell portraying the fantasy version of Ledger’s character is quite believable in the context of the story. They even acknowledge the visual difference by quizzical glances at their own reflections and a few verbal comments made.

Gilliam’s visual imagination is given quite the workout here and the finished work looks great. There is even a scene of a singing chorus-line of fishnet wearing bobbies that will have the Monty Python fans howling in ecstasy. Approaching this work trying to find literal messages and meaning does the filmmaker a disservice. This film is meant to fire up the imagination and dazzle the eyes with visions that only someone like Gilliam can create. In those categories it is a great success. The film is also tinged with a sadness from Ledger’s involvement that is hard to escape.
Rob Hudson

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