The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus Review

There is a little bit of hype and mystery surrounding this film. It’s Heath Ledger’s last film and you always wonder if Terry Gilliam is even going to finish one. So with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepping in for Ledger, I had no idea what to expect. Then again, you never know what to expect with a Terry Gilliam film.

There is a little bit of hype and mystery surrounding this film. It’s Heath Ledger’s last film and you always wonder if Terry Gilliam is even going to finish one. So with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepping in for Ledger, I had no idea what to expect. Then again, you never know what to expect with a Terry Gilliam film.

Terry Gilliam is one of my favorite directors. I root for him. I watch Brazil and Time Bandits on DVD every few years. I even liked 12 Monkeys. I hope he gets stuff done and I hope it’s good. His work is mystifying, fantastic, and often metaphorical and densely packed with surreal imagery. Dr. Parnassus is all of those things but unfortunately, the whole is less than the sum of its parts on this one.

It’s the story (sort of) of Dr. Parnassus, an immortal mystic locked in combat with the devil via various bets. The devil, played by Tom Waits, is the shinning performance in the film. Waits makes the devil his own, and makes you want to hang out with him in some seedy smoke filled bar… and listen to Tom Waits. Sure, he’s evil, and you’ll burn forever, but first let’s have a beer. Right before Closing Time.

Up for grabs is in this and other various wagers is Dr. Parnassus’ own daughter, Valentina, when she reaches her 16th birthday and comes of age. If Dr. Parnassus loses, he loses his only daughter.

While visually breathtaking in some scenes and you do get some real Gilliam magic here, unfortunately there are lots of problems. From the unclear rules of the world Gilliam has created to a large pacing issue, the movie is sadly hamstringed. We see what’s inside the good Doctor’s magic mirror in the beginning, and it’s amazing and then we don’t get a glimpse back into it for what seems like hours. Too much talking and very little of it actual exposition and explaining. Is the mirror magic? Why is it taking so long to go back in? Is Dr. Parnassus controlling it? Why is Tom Waits off screen for so long? Why didn’t that 20-something Hollywood hipster nimrod sitting next to me take a bath before the film?

This was Ledger’s final performance, so how was it? Well, this was not Ledger’s finest performance. How can you top the Dark Knight? You can’t. But his performance is really more forgettable than anything, sadly. One of the problems is his character. A mysterious man named Tony who just enters Dr. Parnassus’ life at the opportune time and seems to be good at the whole grifting/performance thing and uses black magic that the devil doesn’t understand. (huh?) Is he good? Bad? Indifferent? It seems like even Heath Ledger doesn’t even know.

Then there’s the little matter of statutory rape in the film. Shortly after her 16 birthday she has sex with Colin Farrell on a boat. I know the movie was made in England where the age of consent is 16. I checked Wikipedia. I hope nothing happens to me in the next few days where my computer is suddenly seized by a forensics team and they go over my internet history. That would be awkward. But it was even more awkward to watch this unfold on film. OK, Colin’s hot, I get it ladies, but with a 16 year old? Come on. Also, the actress, Lily Cole, clearly looks (and is) older than 16 so why not just make her older and have your audience avoid a really icky feeling towards the end of the movie? Not really sure what the point of that was.

I saw the movie with Neil and he summed it up best after it was over: “It wasn’t my favorite Terry Gilliam Film”. No, it wasn’t. It was no Brazil, but it was no Brothers Grimm either. While it had quite a few problems and I didn’t love it, it was, like all Terry Gilliam films, interesting, visually stunning, and a mind bend, and I have to say even a mediocre Terry Gilliam film still makes for a worthwhile trip to the movies. Except for the statutory rape part. I’m just saying.

Chris Mancini


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