Those who are familiar with Terry Gilliam’s work already will have an inkling of what to expect with this one. For those who aren’t, this film will be quite an experience. Perhaps if I tell you that Gilliam has directed such films as Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and created the bizarre animation sequences in Monty Python you might have some idea of what to expect.
Firstly I feel that The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus has had unfairly high expectations placed upon it. The death of Heath Ledger will lead many people to believe that his last film will automatically amount to his best performance. Unfortunately this is not the case. Although his performance in the film is an accomplished one, it is not quite up to scratch compared to his iconic portrayal of the Joker or his performance in Brokeback Mountain; and it is for those roles he will be most fondly be remembered for.
Now, back to the film in hand. One of the main words you will hear from people describing this film is “weird”. The sets and general plotline are undeniably quirky but the ending will leave many confused over whether they “got it” or if there was even anything to “get”.
The story focuses on Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his travelling “Imaginarium” which is a portal into the users greatest imaginations and desires. In his youth Dr Parnassus had made a bet with the devil to become immortal on the condition that when his first-born reached its 16th birthday he or she would become the property of the devil. As his daughter approaches 16, Dr Parnassus re-negotiates the deal so that the first person to seduce 5 souls (the devil with temptation and the Dr with imagination) will win his daughter. Dr Parnassus also offers his daughters hand in marriage to the man who helps him win this bet, one of them being Ledger, a man they encounter on their travels, the other is Anton, the faithful worker on Dr Parnassus’ Imaginarium.
The performances are very strong and Lilly Cole’s turn as the daughter is surprisingly good as were Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp who all portray Ledger’s character eerily similarly. The fact that Ledger died before the film was finished is also dealt with well as his appearance changes in the Imaginarium depending on who’s imagination it is. But the fact is that the confusing storyline and distinctly average script are just not good enough to make the film great, no matter how good the acting is. It is one of the strangest films I have seen in a long time and it is difficult to find a moral subject, or indeed a point to the whole story, entertaining though it is. Overall it is worth seeing, if only to see Heath Ledger’s final performance.