The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Viewed – 09 December 2011  Blu-ray

At one time, former member of British comedy group Monty Python, Terry Gilliam was one of my favourite directors.  I feel he reached the pinnacle of his talents with the excellent Bruce Willis sci-fi fantasy Twelve Monkeys.  Yet subsequent releases have failed to pass by my radar, and along with the utterly bizarre Tideland, I began to feel he had lost the magic that had singled him out as one of the most inventive directors around.  So I promised myself I would check out what else he has done recently, and this one caught my eye.

Mostly famous as the last movie of tragic star Heath Ledger, but so much more than, set in modern-day London, we follow a travelling theatre company promising to show the often reluctant members of the public a world of their own imagination beyond a fake mirror.  Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) however tells his daughter Valentina (the gorgeous Lily Cole) that he has lived for more than a thousand years, and when he fell in love with a mortal woman, he made a deal with the devil (creepy musician Tom Waits) to grant him youth, yet as part of the bargain, if he was to ever have a son of daughter, they would belong to the devil by their sixteenth birthday.  Valentina is about to become sixteen, and the devil returns to offer Doctor Parnassus a new wager.

Heath Ledger stars as a runaway con-man whose attempted murder is thwarted by the theatre company, and they take him in.  Due to the fact Ledger died during filming, Gilliam crafted a character around the tragedy that whenever he enters the imaginarium, he is played by a different actor (a trio of famous faces, of which I won’t spoil) and in the context of the fantastical storyline … it works brilliantly.  The ideas, and clever special effects showcased in this movie took my breath away, part Alice In Wonderland, part The Lovely Bones, and shows without a doubt that Gilliam remains one of the sharpest cinematic visionaries of our time – loosing none of the skill he showed in movies like Brazil and Time Bandits.  Some of the surrounding, real-world elements jar a little with the fantasy ones, and sometimes the story is a little scatter-shot, which has often been the case with Gilliam’s work … but with a classic good vs evil morality tale at it’s heart and visual wonder like I’ve never seen, this was a real treat.

Verdict: 4 /5

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