This film *REQUIRES* viewing it through the eyes of a prepubescent child! The German released Blu-ray and I believe the DVD both have a short video Foreword by Gilliam that, in part, explains and requests this. The story is told primarily through the eyes of a 9-year old, even if it's not often from a "first person" point of view. It also requires being able to appreciate the capacity for prepubescent children to have and exercise extensive imagination without losing ability to discern the difference between fantasy and reality, or losing their sanity. Failing to do this results in missing the inherent innocence of various scenes as Jeliza-Rose copes with the extremely bleak and sometimes gruesome world around her. There are clues throughout, albeit sometimes subtle, that she never does lose sight of what's fact and fiction, or what's real and fantasy. She does chose to ignore fact and reality until she has a means of coping with it. At times she creates a very logically rational interpretation of what she observes, albeit an incorrect one as she simply doesn't have the necessary knowledge or experience to truly "know" what she sees. In summary, she's never over the edge like the mentally retarded "boy," Dickens, that she befriends, who is mentally incapable of (completely) discerning the difference between fantasy and reality.
It's not as strong as some of Gilliam's other films, but it's not his weakest either. It's also not superficial entertainment. Perhaps that combined with inability or unwillingness to see it with the mind of a child is what makes the film so troublesome to many. A number of scenes are easily repulsive to an adult, but quite credible and very acceptable through the eyes of a 9-year old, without any mental trauma. Those who had a significant portion of their childhood play time left unstructured or at worst semi-structured, requiring the use of imagination to create, self organize and carry out activities, will more easily comprehend and appreciate Jeliza-Rose's imagination and how she uses it. Those who had crippled childhoods that were structured 24/7 by adults armed with endless rules and procedures about what to do, how to do it and when to do it, even in play by themselves or with others, won't likely have a clue about what's going on in this film. I pity them as they never had a *real* childhood.
Four stars for creating a film with insight about the capacity of childhood imagination and the resilience of children when surrounded by bleakness, tragedy and gruesomeness.