The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
September 7, 2012 Leave a comment
With only days to go before his daughter comes of age, Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) must win five souls with his travelling imaginarium if he is to best the devil and save her own from damnation. Confined to the London shadows, his troupe– comprising herald-with-a-crush Anton (Andrew Garfield) and plucky not-a-midget Percy (Verne Troyer)–are struggling to find the necessarily virtuous volunteers when they happen across a mysteriously hanging man. Saved from death, Tony (Heath Ledger) vows to help recruit the required souls as his own becomes inexorably tied to the outcome.
A film decidedly not from visionary director Terry Gilliam but Heath Ledger and friends, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus cannot help but be overshadowed by the actor’s untimely death. While it may bare the scars of a tumultuous production–as the likes of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell came together to complete Ledger’s scenes–it is also a testament to not only the man’s talents but the esteem with which he was held that the film exists in a finished form at all.
The story’s structure, split as it is between the grey streets of London and the fantastical imaginings of the titular doctor, certainly lends itself to Gilliam’s forced modifications, as Ledger is able to give a relatively complete performance on one side of the show’s enchanted mirror while Depp, Law and Farrell portray the character through the looking glass, as it were. That said, while this decision might compensate in part for Ledger’s departure, the character of Tony becomes even more indefinable than he was probably intended. By film’s end he isn’t so much intriguingly enigmatic as annoyingly obtuse.
Tony aside, however, Gilliam has quite an enjoyable set-up. Although the film struggles to do justice to the centuries-old rivalry between Plummer’s alcoholic monk and Wait’s moustacheod devil, the performances are assured and undoubtedly entertaining. Their bargain, which provides the impetus of the plot, is wonderfully discordant considering their unlikely friendship. Cole herself is passably plucky, while Mini Me and Spider-man round out the ensemble with the two most memorable –although sadly underutilised–performances.
With a Faustian pact, an unknown quantity, a love triangle and the imaginarium itself all vying for screen-time, then, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is an enjoyable, surrealist mess of a film which will infuriate as much as it endears. While The Dark Knight Rises‘ success was undoubtedly bolstered by Ledger’s tragic passing, Gilliam’s film spends so much time trying to do the actor justice that its story unfortunately falls by the wayside.