Film review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is an enchanting tale about the choice between good and evil. It puzzles the mind and provides age-old spectacles for a modern audience.

Terry Gilliam, the BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated film director, has always been well known for his fantastical and bizarre productions, including “Monty Python” (1971-1999) and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998). “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” fits perfectly into this description.

Gilliam’s latest has been well publicised as Heath Ledger’s last film. The actor died while “Parnassus” was still in production, but Gilliam has put an unexpected twist into the plot, and was able to finish the film with the help of Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Collin Farrell.

The film focuses on the centuries-old Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), and his deals with the devil to preserve his mortality, and later his youth. Parnassus has already traded his beautiful daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), and when she comes of age she will belong to the devil. However, Parnassus proves himself again to be a betting man and agrees to the new terms, the first man to tempt five souls keeps Valentina. The twist to the story is that Dr Parnassus has the ability to guide the imaginations of others, and can tempt them to the joy and the light, fighting against the devil tempting the souls into the darkness.

To help Parnassus there is Tony (Heath Ledger), whose life Valentina saved at the start of the film. Tony enters into the imaginations of the souls too, and tempts them to the joy and the light, however, every time he enters the imagination he creates himself a new form. Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell all pull the role together in this way by becoming different parts of an imagination, and this transformation works well with the plot.

The set clearly has a Terry Gilliam touch, merging the old-style fairground attraction with modern society. It questions whether people are too easily tempted into what is wrong, and even whether people pause to consider the consequences of their actions.

Overall, the film is enchanting for audiences who are willing to engage with the slip between that real and what is imaginary. It is a simple fantasy story for those who wish it to be, but can be much more complex for those who are willing to look beneath the surface at the morality tale it portrays. It is a fantastic way of keeping Heath Ledger’s memory well preserved, and is a tribute to his life and skill as an actor.

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