Review: 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' Is A Storyteller's Tale For Gilliam, Ledger Fans
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" involves two very different worlds, and they are starkly different in appearance and feeling. There is the real world where Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his theatre troupe wander around the streets trying to gain notice in classic old style vaudeville, and it is a bleak and dark world. People only notice to be amused by this old fashioned way of entertainment, but if someone accidentally goes into the mirror, as a drunkard does in the first scene, everything changes. In the mirror world your imagination is directed by Parnassus to make it a spectacular, beautiful place. It can be dangerous too, depending on who is inside it.
The troupe run across a mysterious, unnamed stranger named Tony (Heath Ledger, to begin with) who they find hung off a bridge. They save his life and he agrees to join them, swearing he has amnesia. The audience knows fairly quickly that Tony is a fast talking con artist himself, but he does have a charisma about him that helps the troupe bring in new audiences. Meanwhile Parnassus makes a deal with the Devil (Tom Waits), an old friend of his that gave him immortality in the first place, to save the soul of his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole). He pledged her to the Devil, but the Devil enjoys their wagers and agrees that whoever can get five souls the fastest will be able to keep her. Can they save Valentina? Will she forever be fooled by the smarmy smile of Tony and ignore the devoted sweetness of her best friend Anton (Andrew Garfield)? Who is the real villain of this story?
Image © Sony Pictures
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is very interesting, but it's a convoluted film that rocks unsteadily at times. It is very up and down in terms of writing and acting, where some scenes are simply brilliant and others are drab or forgettable. The best part of the film are memorable ones, most specifically anything within the mirror world. While the real time is important to create such a stark contrast to the fantasy realm, it always feels like it is bogging up the real interest of the movie. I couldn't help feeling like I wished the real world scenes would just hurry up already so we could get back to the mirror world, and that was a shame since Ledger is only seen in the dark, dank reality. This role will naturally be compared to his Oscar-winning turn as The Joker in "The Dark Knight," and it is not nearly as dynamic or as fascinating, nor did it really need to be. Tony's sleezy attitude was necessary for the story, but it certainly didn't make him a really compelling or relatable character.
Overall the film is visually stunning in the parts where the mirror world is explored, and the story is confusing but once you embrace the fantastical it comes rather smoothly and naturally. Newcomer Lily Cole has a major role here as Valentina, the girl who most of the story centers on, and she is vulnerable and just sassy enough to please the audience. This might have been a role better suited to a more experienced actress, but she certainly did well enough. "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is an epic storyteller's tale, one fit for the main character to tell, and while it is not for everyone, fans of Gilliam will enjoy this new foray into his strangely fascinating mind. Fans of Ledger may also want to see this if only because it was his last film. "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is out now in theaters.
Story by Chelsea Doyle
Starpulse contributing writer
Follow Chelsea on twitter at http://twitter.com/mustbethursday.
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