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Film Review: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

At the time of his untimely death in early 2008, Heath Ledger was filming The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus [IMDRP] for director Terry Gilliam [TGILL].  His passing left the project with an uncertain future.  Gilliam as the cursed director known for set accidents and catastrophes was faced with another plagued project after the unfortunate The Man Who Killed Don Quixote


Just when it seemed like the film was going to be shelved, Gilliam announced that actors Jude Law [JLAW], Johnny Depp [JDEPP] and Colin Farrell [CFARR] would film the remainder of Ledger’s scenes.  The reimagined film owes honors to its charming lead, but also moves gallantly forward from the tragedy. 


In The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Christopher Plummer [CPLUM] plays the title character who runs a magic show on the streets of London.  Along with his beautiful teenage daughter Valentina, played by British model Lily Cole, and his adopted son Anton, played by Andrew Garfield [AGARF], and friend Percy (Verne Troyer), Parnassus puts on a traveling show which promises people a trek through the depths of their own imaginations. 


The good doctor’s story goes back several hundred years when he first made a bargain for his immortality with the devil Mr. Nick, played by Tom Waits.  As he went about his immortal life, Parnassus met a woman he fell in love with and asked the devil for yet another favor, the gift of youth.  Mr. Nick in exchange would take Parnassus’ daughter on her 16th birthday. 


With her birthday fast approaching, Parnassus is trying to fight off Mr. Nick.  Valentina and Anton rescue an amnesia-ridden stranger named Tony, played by Ledger, who joins the eclectic troupe.  As Mr. Nick comes to collect Valentina, Parnassus strikes another bargain.  Whoever seduces the first five souls in the Imaginarium will win her hand.  Thus unfolds a fantastical fable about morality, love, friendship and betrayal. 


The film offers visually stunning scenes of London as well as the fantastical depictions of the Imaginarium.  Even the troupe’s bus itself is a burst of color and personality set against the drab, rainy London streets.  The film’s best scenes come in the Imaginarium where the story unfolds in a manner that seamlessly connects both worlds.  Although there are a few parts where the visuals become overbearing, Gilliam rescues the film before the story gets lost.  As complicated as it appears, the story is always center stage. 


The film is peppered with outrageous characters, but the work of the principle cast is clearly a major strength.  It is obvious the adventures the characters experience and the growth required in meeting the enormous challenges of their journey.  The trio of Law, Farrell and Depp get to channel their most eccentric sides while Garfield is a major find who will become a star.  With her striking and unconventional looks, Cole does a commendable job portraying Valentina’s street smarts and youthful vulnerability.   


Although Ledger was lost, one gets the sense that the production pulled itself together to finish the film in his memory.  His performance is further evidence not only of his gift for acting but of his likeable personality  The film is a fitting legacy for a performer who cared more about acting than being a star. 


The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is highly enjoyable and offers something refreshingly different in a world of superheroes, formulaic romances and predictable thrillers.  The film opens in limited release on December 25th, 2009.   



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By Afshan Farooqui on Thursday, December 24, 2009 @ 04:32 PM        2570 views

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