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Home Reviews Cinema reviews The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 16 October 2009 14:39
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Andrew Garfield, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell
Certificate: 12A

Only Terry Gilliam could pull this off. A fantastical feast of twisted visuals, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus has its director's name all over it; it's dark, demented, and had its usual share of difficulties. The deceased elephant in the room is, of course, Heath Ledger - but as far as obstacles go, this one is surmounted with superb agility.

Casting Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and Jude Law in the late Ledger's place, Gilliam's decision speaks volumes about his directing abilities; the adjustment to the line-up actually works better than a single actor might have. You see, Tony (Ledger) is a man with several faces. Turning up with a shady past, he inserts himself into a group of travelling players who wander the grimy streets of modern London, hoping to woo people with the power of imagination.

Leading the troupe and its rickshaw sideshow is Dr Parnassus (Plummer), a man of infinite stories and no wonder - he did a deal with Mr Nick (Waits) himself so that he could live forever. In exchange, he must give the devil his daughter, Valentina (Cole), when she comes of age. Anton (Garfield), lead actor and pseudo-son, looks on longingly at her, knowing nothing of Parnassus's pact. When the time comes to honour the bargain, the band of performers resist, forced into a race against the dark side: the first to win five souls to their cause.

Amidst it all, Tony schemes and plots, worming his way into women's purses in exchange for a turn through the Imaginarium's magic mirror. There, a vast and vivid CGI world greets them, each with their own version of Tony as their escourt. It's a neat setup, allowing for varied vistas and a dazzling blend of different mindscapes - a chance for film-maker to flex his muscles.

Pursued by gangsters, Lucifer, and little old Anton, the fantasy soon descends into farce, conjuring up a frenetic energy which doesn't fail to fascinate. Plummer and Waits, too, make a for a great pair of gravelly antagonists. But creativity and flair can't make up for a poor script - muddled and jumbled, Gilliam's flaw remains the same. He's a great visionary, but not the world's best writer.

Faustian deals are all well and good, but without a structure to bind it properly, The Imaginarium soon fades out of focus. The cast keep it clear as best they can - Lily Cole in particular is surprisingly solid - but the blurry world of Gilliam's mind has become too cloudy. It's lacking the liveliness of Time Bandits or the dramatic punch of Brazil. But hey, at least it's better than Brothers Grimm.


Flashes of brilliance light up Gilliam's latest, but sentiment can't save its scrambled script. Dedicated to Heath "from his friends", it's a touching tribute to departed talent, but struggles to be much more.



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  • brazil
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  • devil
  • fantasy
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  • heath ledger
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  • imagination
  • johnny depp