This past Saturday, I was wandering about in downtown Philadelphia. I bought tickets for a movie, enjoyed a beer, and then two hours of my life disappeared in a cataclysmic event that I can only attribute to the random, staggering madness of Mr. Terry Gilliam.
Upon viewing the trailer for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I was intrigued—but not convinced. I’ve only had a few precious memories of Heath Ledger and I didn’t want to disrupt the waters. From medieval knighthood, to the Joker, to butt-fucking Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath had a pretty full range of roles before he died. I was over it; I didn’t need any more.
While there is no danger in Heath being remembered for his part in The Imaginarium, it certainly doesn’t help matters.
The movie’s plot—which I had to rely on others to describe for me—is about an immortal travelling showman and gambling addict who makes a deal with the devil, Mr. Nick, to save his daughter. Sound pretty simple? Let’s dig deeper.
Doctor Parnassus (Chris Plummer) obtained immortality via a bet with the Devil/Mr. Nick (Tom Waits). As an old man, he meets his true love, a younger woman. He makes another deal with Mr. Nick to become young again to score with this chick.
The devil grants his wish, but in return, he must give the devil his first daughter when she turns 16. His wife dies during childbirth and his daughter is rapidly approaching that ripe age when the devil comes knocking again. This time, he offers Parnassus another wager: whoever can obtain 5 souls first, gets the girl. Still sound simple?
Oh, did I mention that Dr. Parnassus has a travelling show that contains an “Imaginarium?”—it’s a door that leads whoever enters to a crazy animated world that exists within Parnassus’ imagination(?)…maybe?
All of the actors in this film contributed so much, which deserves to be applauded because this film made no fucking sense. In that sense, it wasn’t a “bad movie”…but it was an extremely weak narrative.
Writer/Director and Monty Python alumn Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Brothers Grimm) seems to have consistent problems while making films. He had been attempting a film version of The Man of La Mancha called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote for quite some time with no luck whatsoever. He is making another attempt for 2011.
When Ledger died 1/3 of the way through shooting The Imaginarium, he refused to back down—but maybe this was an omen. Perhaps some supernatural force was just trying to say, “Fuck it. Just tell a story for once.”
While it is clear that Gilliam fights an uphill battle to bring movie-watchers something new, intriguing, and spectacular, he has had very limited success after the Monty Python train left the station.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was a ride—not necessarily a fun ride—but a ride, nevertheless. It was puzzling, frustrating, and way-drawn-out…with just enough quirky and funny bits to keep me interested. I enjoy when films are weird for the sake of being weird, but when a movie comes into your house, takes a shit on your rug, sings a song, draws a silly picture and whistles as it hops away, all you’re left with is a pile of poop and a very definitive, “What the fuck just happened?”
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