Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Watching a Terry Gilliam film is always a bit like going down the rabbit hole. Make no mistake, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a singular event that occasionally demands attention to detail and commands respect for fantasy. For those familiar with Gilliam there are touches of Fisher King, Baron Munchausen and even a fleeting reference to Monty Python.
A convoluted yet easy to follow plot has the immortal Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer in epic mode) making amends to the Devil (a laid back Tom Waits). It seems that in return for immortality Dr. P must deliver five souls to the Gloved One. Dr. P does this through the aid of a magic mirror. In a turn of events it seems The Devil is not a guy who minds losing or even renegotiating deals. One such wager revolves around a clause that allows Waits to claim any kin Plummer may've fathered when said progeny reaches the age of 16.
Doctor Parnassus parades around in a sort of motley troupe that would not be out of place in Ingmar Bergman's the Seventh Seal. This theatrical unit rolls out its stage and performs in back alleys and in front of tony strip malls. One peculiarity involves a mirror on the stage that looks like a plain prop mirror on the outside but also functions as a kind of fifth dimension transport device. Once you go through the looking glass you are in The Devil's world where every fantasy becomes real. Also on board as performers in Parnassus' circus are Valentina (amazing newcomer Lily Cole) who embodies the beauty of a goddess from classic sources (think Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, which marks more than once Gilliam has used this image) and Anton (Andrew Garfield) and Verne Troyer as the smaller than a midget Percy. Troyer, because of his tiny stature, is often used as the butt of jokes but here he's the voice of reason.
A man on the run, Tony (Heath Ledger in his last role) acts as a conduit for all of the characters to interact. As is well known Ledger died during the filming of this movie and his part, the scenes where Tony goes into the mirror, are played by Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell as Tony #1, #2 and #3.
As surreal as the film unwinds the multiple casting makes an easy transition. As fluid as Gilliam is with fantasy elements it's a wonder he's not directing Alice in Wonderland.

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