The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
  • Time: 123 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Fantasy | Mystery
  • Director: Terry Gilliam
  • Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole


A traveling theater company gives its audience much more than they were expecting.


  • The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus 2009

    WARNING – Contains words which may not be mobile friendly. (Hello Google)

    So, please try to remember…

    Can you recall the Knights who say Ni in Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1975?
    How about Brian’s mum in Life of Brian 1979?
    The short people running and tumbling from screen to screen in The Time Bandits 1981 ?
    Brazil 1985. Jeez.
    What do you remember about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 1998 ?

    Well let me enlighten you:-
    They all are confusing, chaotic and very shouty.
    The Director Terry Gilliam (TG) ( yes, for it is he indeed ) rejoices in creating film from within a genre of work I like to call UberLoudStarkFarcicalrunningdwarfishvictorianaMusikHalle-geshrift. This is a peculiar style, and TG (for yes, it was indeed he) was the co-founder of said genre.
    It has a style and approach that are instantly recognisable for those of us who have been doused previously in his end-of-the-pier theatro-nostalgic extremism. Watch his work for longer than 24 seconds and you will experience severe visual and auditory exhaustion. And disorientation. Sea-sickness even:
    Everything on screen is moving, swinging, rocking, sliding, jumping, expanding, shrinking, falling and rotating.
    Bits that should, don’t.
    Bits that shouldn’t, do, even when there are no precedents – or hinges.
    [Incidentally, you may wish to know that 23 seconds was the medically agreed absolute maximum running time allowed for ANY of his paper-cut animations for the Monty Python Shows in the 1970s]

    UberFarcicalLoudStarkrunningdwarvesvictorianaMusikHalle-geshrift has other features besides visual bedlam. For example there are numerous contradictory historical counterpoints, and technological dys-chronicities:- In The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus 2009 we see this in the opening shots of a horse-drawn cart ( a cart not dissimilar to Dr. King Schultz’s in Django Unchanged 2012 or even a Heath-Robinson drawing of ‘A Machine to End Slavery 1833′) being pulled through the streets of London (England).
    Like an overloaded camel, carrying way too much cargo, travelling from Sij el-Habab to Benizeer el-Blanca, across the sweeping sands of a desolate Northern Quarter, the cart hoves into view.
    Buckets, sieves, chimneys and all the other ephemera of life cling with dubious handholds to wooden rings and clasps. The over-high structure flexes too far one way, and then heaves back, to over-compensate the other. It bends, weaves and rattles on metal wheels across the cobbles of a chronologically confused city.
    The camera drops to the be-Rolexed wrist of a fallen vagrant – followed by a cut to the back-door of a modern night-club. We witness the forcible expulsion of binge-drunk revellers into the Imaginarium’s sparse and harshly lime-lit audience.
    So… Some Victorian-era expectations sat within a contemporary reality.

    Terry Gilliam (for sure, it is indeed himself) has been doing this stuff since the 60s. Shocking us with visual contradictions, questionable humour and needless violence. He has, indeed, a very odd (some may say twisted) imagination.
    Giving us 40 or 50 years of oddity – no less.
    And in this film, he has given us the opportunity to see inside his imagination. Not just by showing his imagination’s outpourings made concrete on celluloid, but to actually travel inside his imaginational process – to another world where good and evil fight-it out in gentlemanly combat – sacrificing worthy and un-worthy souls alike.

    The Imaginarium is a travelling Medicine Show, part amateur freak-show and part snake-oil. It is the portal into Dr Parnassus’ imagination – a many splendored place offering ‘the ticketed visitor’ his/her very own life’s desires. And like the Mirror of Erised at Hogwarts, the Imaginarium reveals to the viewer his/her deepest and most desperate cravings.
    And in a plastic and bendy world that seems to borrow from Miyazaki’s amazing domestic Japanese animations, and from Esher’s surrealist drawings, the Imaginarium provocatively dangles bespoke temptation in front of the weak and confused. A soul is offered limitless access to their desires – until it doesn’t… And at this point, the gluttonous victim reaches a River Styx, and is given the choice.
    And what they decide next, will affect their forever…

    Borrowing from Marlow’s Dr Faustus, the ticket-holder is offered his rewards at a price. Relinquish his desires and return to the world, to live as before, or sell his soul to the devil and fulfil his every wish.
    And like any good Medicine Show, the devil in this film is a Wild-West gambler. Bowler hat and slimy ways – a loathful figure of infinite power and surprising compassion.

    And you must have realised by now that The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is a morality play. It serves to remind us that we live in a self-centred, individualistic, and morally vacuous world where success is measured in credit-card debt and designer tote-bags. A place where there are no come-backs to selfishness.
    No accountability for people hurt or damaged as long as they are behind, not in front.
    Terry Gilliam (for indeed it was very possibly he) is informing us that every time we buy (rather than help), we sell a small part of our soul to the devil.
    And the Devil is stacking those chips on the green baize before him. Counting and sorting. Chewing on his silvered cigarette-holder as he squints mischievously through the ironic smoke of a million burning souls. Souls willingly surrendered by unremembered consumers.
    And we all know what happened to Voldemort when all the bits of his soul had been destroyed!..
    Kerbooom …

    I struggled with TG’s (yep) other ‘great’ film, Brazil 1985.
    I have an open mind. But I just couldn’t follow it. Too many visuals, no real story – just an amusing idea being punched home with shocking brutality.
    In an effort to understand Brazil, I looked for, and found, a dusty film-book in my local library on UberLoudStarkFarcicalMusikjumpingmidgetvictorianaHalle-geshrift.
    It was very useful.
    It opened my eyes to the unexpected potential and insightfulness of this neglected genre.
    Duly inspired, I charged the candle in my home-magic-lantern, and watched Terry Gilliam’s (To be sure it’s him a’right) other films.
    With the smoke-machine wheezing by my feet, and wisps of chilly CO2 carousing through the projector light beam, I came to realise that with The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus 2009, Gilliam (Uh Huh – indeed t’was he) has got it right:-
    I see the story. I see the moral.
    I see the imagination. I see the skill.
    I see the vision. I see the world.
    I see the smell of universal complacency.
    I see the absence of hope.
    I see the reduced ambition. I see the decay.
    I see the hopelessness.

    I see the end is Nigel

  • Can an old man whose curse is being immortal take you to faraway lands where imagination meets surrealism, where the mere sight of otherworldly yet familiar symbolic representations of reality is able to make a grown man squeal in orgasmic delight? If your believe so, then take a peek into the looking glass as created by one of the old masters of fantastical artisticism – Terry Gilliam.

    Gilliam, whose film credits include masterpieces such as Monty Python and the HolyGrail (1975) and Twelve Monkeys (1995), is also capable of unspeakable duds such as Tideland (2005), and The Brothers Grimm (2005). His new film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, sees the auteur back in fine “auteur” form. It is the kind of film which reminds us that no matter how frustratingly bohemian some of his pictures are, the fierce dedication to his unique filmic vision of the abovementioned fantastical artisticism is often understated and not fully appreciated.

    Heath Ledger’s death made things difficult for Gilliam. However, he benefited from the goodwill of Ledger’s friends – Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law – who volunteered to take over the role of Tony in different parts of the film to complete its production. Ledger’s acting is less showy here than in his Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2007). This allows Ledger’s acting substitutes to adequately portray Tony without the fear of unevenness in performances.

    The screenplay is somewhat of an “organized mess”. It moves the narrative along, but some parts are incomprehensible (not that I really bother). In one scene, a black river turns into a huge serpent-like creature with the face of Mr. Nick a.k.a the Devil (as played by Tom Waits). It surveys two characters in the scene before morphing back as the black river again. Is there significance to this action? Only Gilliam knows.

    The core story involves Doctor Parnassus’ (Christopher Plummer) dealings with Mr. Nick. A pact is made – if Parnassus manages to seduce five souls into their world of fantasy before the latter does, then his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), will be freed. Tony’s involvement becomes a little more than a sideshow. His friendship with Parnassus is questionable, and his motives are never always revealed. Though his love for Valentina is obvious, the ambiguity of his character makes things more complex than they appear to be.

    Gilliam has (old)-fashioned a tale consisting of oddball characters set in an urban landscape. He does it to varying success. The narrative may be occasionally weak, but the director’s one-of-a-kind filmic vision teleports us to his world of beautiful and grotesque imagery with the level of skill associated with a master craftsman. The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is a showpiece reminding that the Gilliam of old could just be in line for a timely resurrection.

    GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)
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