Sunday, February 7, 2010
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS / ****
Distributor: Sony Classics
Release Date: December 25, 2009
Running Time: 122 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Given all the hubbub and press surrounding Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece “The Dark Knight,” particularly in regards to the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance, it would be easy to forget that Ledger had one more performance in the can – Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”
The title character is played by the veteran Christopher Plummer (who scored his first Oscar nomination this year for the little-seen “The Last Station”), and he does indeed possess an Imaginarium. He travels around with an entourage of his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), Anton (Andrew Garfield), and faithful midget sidekick Percy (Verne Troyer). Many years ago Parnassus made a deal with the devil Mr. Nick (played with delicious viciousness by Tom Waits) that promised the devil would gain possession of any children Parnassus may have on their sixteenth birthday. With Valentina’s sixteenth birthday approaching, Parnassus grows increasingly nervous about telling his daughter of her impending fate.
One rainy night, the traveling act discovers a man (Ledger) hanging from a bridge via a noose. They pull him to safety and resuscitate the man, who cannot remember his name or anything else about himself. He is allowed to travel with them, and even becomes a part of their act. He soon remembers that his name is Tony. The act itself is a series of goofy histrionics, until a person passes through the Imaginarium. The visuals concocted her could only be dreamed up by Gilliam, who is a master of this kind of storytelling.
Of course, that pesky Mr. Nick just won’t go away, and he reappears to make another deal with Parnassus. Whoever is the first to garner five souls will get to retain possession of Daughter. Tony wants to help retain Valentina, and offers some ideas on how to change the act. Anton, the jealous type, doesn’t trust him, but Parnassus is desperate enough to keep his daughter that he listens to him. Details about Tony’s true character do come to light, but I won’t reveal them here.
The tragedy of this film is ironically what made it most successful. Ledger’s untimely death resulted in some story shuffling and re-casting. Gilliam made the inspired choice to cast Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell as three different versions of the Tony character, which spring up in three different Imaginarium experiences. All three actors do a marvelous job playing the Tony character as Ledger did, and the film takes on a deeper meaning as a tribute to the deceased. Of the three Farrell admittedly walks away with the movie, a stunning reminder that he is in fact a hugely talented actor.
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” may not tickle everyone’s fancy, but it certainly struck a chord in me. The visuals alone make this a unique experience, but the story and performances certainly enhanced them. It’s really a shame that there will be no more new Heath Ledger performances, but at least he got a movie as good as this one for a true swan song.
Theater: AMC Oakview 24, Omaha, NE
Time: 1005 pm
Date: February 2, 2010