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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

Directed by Terry Gilliam Written by Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown

  The idea for Imaginarium first began in 2007 when Terry Gilliam called Charles McKeown whom he had worked with back in 1988. Wanting to make something original and not based on another screenplay or book and it concerning a traveling group, entering modern London. Selling your most wildest dreams up close at a cost of your soul; we didn’t need that anyway. Having worked with Heath ledger before on The Brothers Grimm, the two had a relationship that was already established. Gilliam had stated that Ledger was sure to fully discuss each scene in full, getting the most out of it and stating the only time feeling alive was on set and everything after was simply irrelevant. Which made it all the more a shame of his untimely death and was a great loss for someone who was sure to do great things to come. After his death production stopped for several months with Terry wanting to call up Heath’s friends; Johnny Depp telling the Director that no matter where he took the film, he would be there to help. Soon after Jude Law and Colin Farrell agreed to assist, each actor decided to donate their income on the film to Heath’s daughter, Matilda. So how does a story still make sense and use the help of three Actors that maybe, sorta of, have to squint to notice the resemblance of each’s likeness? Upon entering the mirror, (your imagination) if having ill intentions in your heart then your face would change with the world additionally. Though Law certainly looked the least like Ledger it was also to be interpreted in a way of each time entering the mirror, witnessing a darker manifestation of himself.

  Starting with the traveling sideshow and their entrance into, why yes: Modern England and stopping outside a nearby bar. *MF: Katie Lyons has a small part in this beginning; having played Michelle, Garfield’s Girlfriend in Boy AAnton (Andrew Garfield) appears as Hermes, messenger of the Gods and introduces Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) who has the power to empower your mind. Being over 1000 years old and offering a chance to purify your soul, the ultimate choice being your own. Bystander Martin (Richard Riddell) choosing to go ahead with the act, approach the stage and make a mockery of them while hitting on the Doctor’s daughter Valentina (Lily Cole). Entering the mirror after her and landing in a bottomless pit of beer containers, thrown into a sea of jellyfish and landing in front of what was to determine his fate. On the one hand being the 12x12x12 steps provided by Parnassus, the other yielding a bar in which he can’t help but enter as it explodes as the game seems to be called. Picking up elsewhere and trying yet again to gain attention but only coming in the form of a little boy hiding out from his parents. We see a new world emerge in which the boy chooses the righteous path though not shown, entailed being between several people learning to play piano and learning how to shoot; the former more appealing for whatever reason.

     We see Valentina looking through a magazine in which Farrell’s face is the model; the reason he shows up as the last portrayal. Parnassus’s assistant Percy (Verne Troyer) catching Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) taunting him about picking up on his end of the deal soon. Anton showing clear indications of liking Valentina but pushed to the side, unaware of what her father has set up long before she was even born. Sitting her down and telling a story of his time as a monk and being visited by the Devil. Believing it was their story that kept the universe sustained and if they stopped then everything would cease to exist, the Devil gladly proving the theory nonsense. Parnassus convinced someone else in the world was telling that “same” story and couldn’t be stopped from being told. The carriage coming to a stop as Anton took notice of a man hanging underneath the bridge currently crossing. Both actors doing their own stunts at this point with Garfield swinging until grabbing hold of Ledger and pulling him up and under the carriage to resuscitate. Finding a pipe that seemed lodged in his throat and taking him aboard, awakening the next day “unsure” of who he was exactly. Parnassus using the time to get drunk and in turn not where mentally should be before a show. Tony, (Heath Ledger) who they ultimately figure out is his name, wrangles several customers and improvised the entire second part of his speech while on stage as the travelers obtain the most money having seen in a while.

    Mr. Nick goes to him later that night to discuss their new friend and how he didn’t trust him but Parnassus believing him to be sent for a reason. Tony finding himself on the front page of a paper and subtly getting rid of the evidence. (The article stated Missing: Disgraced Head of Children’s Charity) Anton continuing to get on the wrong foot with the stranger and playing a game of hide and seek with the pipe he’s so insistent on getting back. The story behind it being in the 19th century when they would hang people, some claimed to have lodged a type of pipe in their throat, passing out and appearing dead (Though I wouldn’t go try that at home!). Anton later hearing of Parnassus jokingly claiming of offering Valentina’s hand to whoever helped win the next 5 souls; a new bet having made to his adversary. Though despite Anton’s best efforts he is unable to win the attention of their next crowd and forces a customer against her will; the group running off from their unmitigated disaster soon following.

   Taking what’s left of their money and sprucing up their act a bit, they fix themselves to adhere to a different type of audience. Parnassus stands in the middle with a depiction of Eve to one side, the apple on the other; post temptation. Tony selling the show like no other and gaining a first customer of which he decides to take “a peek” of what lay on the other side. This being where Johnny Depp is shown and Tony’s imagination slowly creeping up as he sees images of Valentina floating around him. Leading her to a path of being reborn they claim 4 souls automatically as the Russians (having a feud with the former charity founder) follow Tony into the mirror and chase him into yet another world of which we find full of ladders reaching to the tops of heaven. After some time Anton interjecting to help him out and wondering what he had been hiding from the others. Mr. Nick claiming the souls of the Russians at a weak attempt by Parnassus to gain their attention. Forced to tell his daughter of the remaining story and wage against the Devil. Tony trying to assist in his daughter’s life being saved by being the 5th soul won. Following Valentina into the mirror the two experience their life with one another, Tony’s imagination used for the majority of the time. Knowing the mirror worked best if handling one mind at a time, Tony lived what was to be assumed as part of his previous life. Being the face of a charity that instead sold organs of the 3rd world children. Once Anton’s character makes it through the mirror and is portrayed as one of their children it is in part her imagination of how she views him, as their entire world begins crashing down around them. This being the point Parnassus enters the mirror as well as we get these great images of the world splitting into puzzle pieces. In a mix of 2D and 3D Gilliam stated having used 650 effect shots for the entire film.

    Valentina had chosen which mirror to enter (believing her father to have died) when Mr. Nick comes forth and tries to persuade of her otherwise. But isn’t he supposed to be the Devil? That seemingly turning point for Mr. Nick’s character didn’t really change my outlook of Waits character though. Him and Parnassus were immortal and the only reason of challenging him being to not only test Parnassus and his will power but to keep him company. Eternal life certainly doesn’t automatically cover your “loneliness” factor and in the case of pure evil, would want someone to combat for souls with as long as possible. Capturing the soul of his daughter when that was all she wanted probably didn’t sit as would have liked after a Tango dance ends with her getting the slip on Nick and entering Hell. Claiming to have wanted Tony’s soul for quite some time and if Parnassus would assist than their slate being wiped clean. A lynch mob comes for Tony as he must choose the correct pipe Parnassus holds while waiting at the top of the stairs we see much earlier in the film. Winning his daughter back but having to search for her on his own, afraid of it being his actually punishment in the end. Winding up in a familiar setting and following a familiar sound after waking to see his new surroundings. Valentina ending up with Anton (who now looked like a teacher) with a daughter as Parnassus smiled and rejoined Percy to start his life over, once more.

   Besides the film being visually stunning in most senses of the word, it doesn’t take away from the packed talent or story that entails underneath. While perhaps a bit complicated if not knowing much about the film and viewing simply out of curiosity, though can just the same be followed if turning to your thinking caps for some help. 😀 Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits had an ancient mystique about them that turned out condensed yet essential characters. Lily Cole had been known as a model before and while has gotten several roles after this film, didn’t get too much enjoyment out of. By all means it was as should have been played out but perhaps surrounded by the talent turned into too much to compete with. I liked her scene of running through the Imaginarium and smashing the windows around her though. Andrew Garfield was a great medium for checking up of Tony and the hopeless romantic pinning for a girl blinded by “Normal Porn” (as Gilliam called it). He was able to show a side not as freely given before, ad libbing a good majority of lines. The blue eyes Heath Ledger was given ended up being a great decision. He’s gestures and often way of acting seemed Joker-esque at times, but I rather liked that about the role. While perhaps the film may not be something everyone can appreciate and understand upon first viewing, those willing to watch without over thinking will find themselves with the advantage.