The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Knocks All of Us On Our Asses
While its odd how little people have cared about this movie, but then again it made its money back outside of America, and wasn’t funded by American money so it makes sense. With every Terry Gilliam film there is ALWAYS some drama with getting the movie to come to fruition, probably none as bigger as what happened during the middle of this movie, he lost Heath Ledger, which was probably how the movie got any funding in the first place.
But Terry being the consummate professional that he is, found a way around it. Luckily some big names came to bat in a big way and pretty much saved this movie from never seeing the light of day.
There really is no other director out there like Gilliam, I don’t know what it is but no one comes close to making films that look like his, probably why he is one of the greats. The closest ones I can think of are Dark City (but that movie is too serious for Gilliam) and The Hudsucker Proxy. Gilliam movies play out like zany oddball fantasy dramatic comedies. But they are thinkers, and I think that is what polarizes him the most. Most people do not like to think when they are seeing a fantasy film (Avatar) they like the odd world laid out for them so things are easier to understand. That is what I love about Gilliam’s films, you have to fill in some of the blanks yourself and you have to pay attention, also some of the blanks just don’t need to be filled it.
I think that this movie is probably the most surreal film he’s made, mainly because it seems to take place in NOW London. Yet all the characters seem to be from a different time/place. The basic plot is that Dr. Parnassus (played aptly by Christopher Plummer, who is the best actor in the movie) was a delusional monk who gets his eyes opened by Mr. Nick (the Devil played with a lot of fun by Tom Waits). The Devil makes a deal with Dr. Parnassus in order to make him immortal. The Devil being who he is, keeps making deals with Dr. Parnassus until the Dr. has really got himself screwed and is about to lose his daughter.
The relationship between Mr. Nick and the Dr. plays out like most people who’ve made deals with the Devil. The Devil likes them, they are friendly but you know the whole time that person is just trying to figure out a way to get this Devil off their back.
During this time of immortality the Dr. travels around with his band of merry actors (Verne Troyer in a non sight gag role and Andrew Garfield, desperate for the Dr’s attention) now they may or may not be immortal as well (again it’s a blank that probably doesn’t need to be filled). Along with them is the Dr.’s about to turn 16 daughter. Once she turns 16 she belongs to the Devil though. They travel about London’s night life in hopes of pulling in drunks for their Imaginarium.
The Imaginarium is the place were people can live out their fantasy beyond their wildest fantasy’s, and while in the trailer the effects looked sort of hokey and lame really worked in the movie.
Along their travels they run into the hanging off a bridge but not dead Tony (Heath Leger). From
here the movie really takes off. The Dr. manages to make another deal with Mr. Nick in that if he can save five souls before he takes five souls then he can keep his daughter. Now with the help of the charismatic Tony character who has a shady past (again blank to be filled in on your own with a little help), the rest of the movie is about that.
I’m not going to get into the ending of this movie, mainly because I’m not 100% sure about it. I got it and understood the conclusion, but I’m not positive on how it happened. And should be seen on your own if you are interested.
This is easily Gilliam back in the early 90’s when he was at his peek. Everything after 12 Monkeys has been a mess. This movie is a lot more focused and despite the oddness and loopyness of how the Imaginarium works the movie as a whole flows well. The fact that Gilliam had to do all the Imaginarium scenes without Heathcliff, he came up with the cleaver idea that once in the Imaginarium Tony is as however the other person who goes through the Imaginarium with him sees him as. It works, as long as you don’t worry about it (afterward I thought it would have worked better if EVERYONE looked different when they went into the Imaginarium, but it also sets up the uniqueness of Tony for the ending).
The best thing I can say about this film is that is it good Gilliam, so if you like Gilliam you will enjoy this. If you don’t like Gilliam, this isn’t going to convert you. It’s a mad mad zany mind of his and we only ever get to see a glimpse of it, so he always makes for interesting movies, even his bad ones. Hopefully Gilliam has found backers outside of America willing to put up with him. Maybe he is a complete dick but he comes off as one of the most straight forward nice guys in the biz. Maybe that’s it? That he is sort of a no bullshit kind of guy, and Hollywood does not like that.
Either way I like him, and I like that this film turned out so well, makes for a fitting end for the interesting career of Heath Ledger. Nothing would be worse for Heath then to have stared in some lame action movie or something that just got pushed through and edited terribly because he was not around to finish the movie. Instead you have a movie that took his loss, came up with a way to work around it and not ruin the film and all the while managing to find a way to pay tribute to him in the mean time.