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Sunday, October 2, 2011

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009) - Review


Terry Gilliam is dead serious about his movies. He's a true artist, uncompromising in translating his vision to the big screen. The bizzare worlds he envisions break limits and boundaries. Take "Brazil" for example, or "Tideland". Few directors have the audacity to treat the viewer to such unusual spectacles. "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" represents Gilliam's return to the fantasy genre and his uncompromising world of wonders.

The story has a neat fairy-tale ring to it. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is an immortal monk, who travels in a horse-driven sideshow caravan along with his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) and his two aides Anton (Andrew Garfield from "The Social Network") and Percy (Verne Troyer), sharing the beauty of imagination with the world. He carries a terrible burden though, that of having gambled with the Devil (Tom Waits) and lost. The price will be the soul of his daughter, which he must surrender to the prince of darkness, or Mr. Nick as they call him, on her 16th birthday. His luck seems to change, however, when the raggedy caravan comes across Tony (Heath Ledger), a charismatic swindler, just in time for a new wager with the Devil, which Parnassus hopes will save his daughter.

The gimmick of the story is the Imaginarium, a world which Parnassus can conjure with his special powers, a world of dreams and imagination (with lots of help from a modern director’s best friend, CGI) tailored around the fabric of the person who enters it. The visual effects are a lot of fun, particularly because there’s a smart concept behind them. There's a wonderful sense of a story that dares our imagination and makes good use of both metaphor and allegory, creating a vivid narrative that's always fun, as long as you can keep up with Gilliam's surreal sense of comedy and his constant tinkering with the abstract perceptions of reality within the Imaginarium. As a way to work around the fact that Heath Ledger never finished his scenes, because of his untimely death, the script was altered so that whenever Tony enters the imaginarium, he appears as a different person each time (Depp, Farrell, Law), since he is a swindler after all, a man who cons people for a living, a man of a thousand faces, none of them real. I would dare say the script works even better this way, though it is a damn shame that things had to happen this way.

The acting is top-notch, with Ledger apparently still bearing echoes of the Joker (little gestures and some line delivery). Plummer is particularly impressive, and after such a long career, it’s nice to see he’s still got it (he also nabbed an Oscar nomination that same year for "The Last Station"). "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" is a wildly imaginative, occasionally creepy ride, full of storytelling wonders and a real pleasure to sit through, if you can overlook some of Gilliam's artistic self-sufficiency.




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