The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Reviews
Fans of this film will probably say that it was highly imaginative and visually stimulating ... at least that's what I think Terry Gilliam is going for. I am not a fan. This seems like a rather old fashioned morality tale, a re-telling of Faust: immortality and deals with the devil usually come back to bite you in the ass. The added element is the "Imaginarium," a mirror into which people fall, and it takes them to another world where the person's imagination can run wild until s/he is forced to make a choice between the benevolent Dr. Parnassus and the devil. This seems like a concept that could be quite compelling, but the visuals of everyone's imagination are virtually the same. The room for creativity that such a concept offers is under-utilized.
The performances are fair. Christopher Plummer seems to be sleep-walking through part of his role and high on cocaine during other parts. Heath Ledger deserved a better send-off; perhaps it was his untimely death that gave his performance an uneven feel, as though the character is never fully realized. Tom Waits, Andrew Garfield, and Lily Cole were all good, but they didn't have very juicy parts.
Overall, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a mess.
As usual for Gilliam, the film, while brilliant in its cinematography, lacks focus while the characters are nothing more than pieces on Gilliam's chessboard - to be moved around, feinting here and attacking there, in attempts to support the visuals.
The main failing here as I see it, is that the character of Dr. Parnassus fails to elicit any pathos whatsoever. Here you have to potential of a tragic figure, on a level with King Lear, but Christopher Plummer plays him as a bumbling buffoon; a drunk who mourns his decisions and yet keeps repeating the same mistakes. He has every chance to become heroic, especially when he gets yet another chance at redemption and change the fate of his daughter, and yet seems oddly detached and unable to summon up the gumption to make any more than a half-hearted effort. I felt like reaching through the screen and shaking Plummer - wake up you idiot! The daughter you supposedly love needs you to step up! But no... even when what he has to achieve is so simple.
I can't really blame Plummer here, as I'm sure Gilliam scripted the character this way - leaving the major plot moving to Heath Ledger's character. Ledger is complex and interesting in what would be his last role; and I thought it very inventive how Gilliam was able to film around the loss of his lead character (inside the imaginarium, your imagination takes over, so of course it's not out of the question that your own image would change - and what a lovely surprise is in store when that happens!).
The character that really interested me however, was Mr. Nick, played by Tom Waits. He keeps winning bets from Parnassus, but then continues to offer him second and third (and 1,000th) chances. There is no profit in it for him to do so other than to continue playing the game. It's as if Nick is using Parnassus as a lab rat, just so he can watch the experiment continue to unfold.
There are scenes of true brilliance here, as when the reality created by Ledger's imagination gets assaulted by truth and begins to crack and shatter - but all these inventive scenes aren't grounded in anything to make you care about the characters - so you feel as if in a giant video game that's going to reboot regardless of whether a character lives or dies.
At film's end, a little boy asks Parnassus if there will be a happy ending - to which Parnassus replies that there are no guarantees... all as Mr. Nick smiles and suggests yet another bet. If only the possibility could have existed for Parnassus to rise above himself and defeat Nick once and for all - but I suppose that could be construed as the film's message - mankind has been blessed and has been given eternal forgiveness for our sins, and yet for all the grace we've been given we keep on sinning, and so the game continues.
Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a very strange man. A thousand years ago, he was the leader of a cult that believed their story-telling kept the universe from ceasing to exist. When the devil (Tom Waits) proves to them their stories have no bearing on the ongoing existence of the universe, Parnassus somehow unwittingly sparks the interest of the devil and is drawn into a thousand year relationship with him that consists mainly of (not so friendly) wagers. Perhaps it's Parnassus' knack for drawing souls into his imaginarium that so inspires the devil, whose wagers with Parnassus often involve the collecting of souls, and who can collect the most. After Parnassus wins the first bet, which allows him to be immortal, he begins to suspect the devil let him win, in order to keep him around forever in this fashion. Parnassus is then doomed to spend an eternity constantly making deals with the devil. His latest one involved a promise to be made mortal again, to marry a beautiful mortal woman, in exchange for the offspring of this relationship, to be granted to the devil upon it's 16th birthday. Parnassus, in love (or lust, the difference is never really clear), eagerly accepts, ignoring the consequences of his deed.
It is now many years later (modern day, to be exact), and Parnassus' imaginarium is a traveling medieval medicine show, comprised of a juggler, a little person (Verne Troyer) and Parnassus' daughter, on the cusp of her 16th birthday. Thrown into the mix is an amnesiac (Heath Ledger) that the group found hanging off the side of a bridge. The amnesiac proves to be a unique showman, and is able to draw crowds to the Parnassus' imaginarium (the underlying message being, without slick production and modern showmanship, even truly magical things are ignored in today's world).
There are elements of the Fisher King and Baron Munchausen in Doctor Parnassus, that in spite of his magical gifts, he's still somewhat of a tragic figure. The subplot involving Heath Ledger's character (the mysterious stranger joins the group and helps turn their fortunes around) has been done before and takes perhaps too much of the focus of the film, but the twist at the end makes for a pretty nice pay-off. I think more than any other Gilliam production, the reliance on computer-generated images may have lessened the overall emotional impact of the film, and the death of Heath Ledger (this was his final film), may have abducted the film from it's original direction. In spite of these critiques, it's still an outstanding film that fits well in the Terry Gilliam canon.
Very bizarre, if you're not a Gilliam fan and have no idea what kinda stuff he has up his sleeve you may or may not enjoy this one. Definitely not a film for the masses, and what a captivating story it is...in the beginning it's hard to get into it on account of some many things happening but then you cannot tear your eyes away from it. You totally invest into it, done with an air of sophistication granted the circumstances in which this film was made.
Heath Ledger's last performance was the only good part, even though this movie made him look so bad.
A star studded cast with a sexy model to boot, I find the story quite complex and extremely ambitious. The usual Good vs Evil, the right choice, the wrong choice, what is the right choice when you also want to be happy & succesful? At times may portray a conflicting message, and it may leave you face to face with a brick wall, which makes it a good "abstract movie". Rewatchability: Medium.