Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Year: 2009
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, Verne Troyer, Andrew Garfield

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is the film the late Heath Ledger was working on before his untimely demise two years ago. The film would have been left incomplete if not for director Terry Gilliam getting Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play some of Ledger's parts. The result: it works perfectly, although the film itself isn't quite solid.

Imaginarium focuses on a travelling street troupe led by Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), an old man who is able to guide the imaginations of others through his magic mirror. He is assisted by a sleight-of-hand expert, Anton (Andrew Garfield), daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) and the midget Percy (Verne Troyer).

The truth is, Parnassus is thousands of years old, because long ago he had made a bargain with Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), a mysterious man whom the former regards as the Devil himself. Parnassus had won the bargain and been granted immortality, until one day he fell in love and wanted his youth restored. So he and Nick make another bargain, and in return for his youth, Parnassus would hand over any child he bears to Nick when he/she turn 16. And Valentina's 16th birthday approaches.

One night, the troupe picks up a stranger called Tony (Heath Ledger), who doesn't remember much about himself, but is willing to help the troupe with their business. Then Parnassus makes a bet with Nick again, and the winner gets to keep Valentina. Tony tries to help Parnassus win the bet by enticing people to enter the magic mirror. However, problems surface in the form of Tony's dark past involving Russian mobsters, and Anton, who cares about Valentina, tries to sabotage Tony's efforts.

This is one WEIRD film. There, I said it. This film has weirdness and surreality written all over it. Gilliam, who co-wrote the film, presents to us a world beyond our own, where our imaginations can be both tempting and deadly. In this story, for every person that walks through the mirror, they are given a choice: to turn their darkest side towards goodness, or give in to temptation. The former will give Parnassus a win, while the latter favours Nick. And it's fun to see how the world within the mirror translates on screen, how it plays differently with each individual.

Plummer, Waits and Cole all deliver in their respective roles, but Ledger is the real focus here, even if he only appears in 1/3 of the film. I think Ledger's best parts were when he was inviting the crowd to watch the troupe's show. He's a natural in that character. Depp, Law and Farrell fill in for him when Tony steps into the mirror, and they all do quite well. Though I must say, by the time Farrell's part comes in, the film starts to feel tiresome.

The surreality is in overdose at times, overwhelming the film and losing its plot. It needs something concrete to hold it down and make it more accessible to the audience, for sometimes it feels like something a junkie would be experiencing when he's on a high.

All I can say is, this film isn't for everyone. If you like Heath Ledger, you might want to see him one last time. Otherwise, you may get something different than expected. (3/5)

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