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Movie Review of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, and Lily Cole

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus: A Little Too Crazy

Not to be confused with that movie starring Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium), The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is perhaps best known as late actor Heath Ledger’s final role.

You may recall that his death occurred during production, in which case Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law stepped in to finish his role. The good news is that the transition from actor to actor is virtually seamless and works within the story’s construction perfectly.

The bad news? The film is still a bit of an all-over-the-map mess. To hear why, just

.

The movie follows Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), an immortal man who runs a circus-style sideshow where he invites people into his imagination via a mirror. Once there, the participants must make a choice — will they side with the devil-like Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), or are they good at heart and will therefore align with Dr. Parnassus?

Dr. P. struck a deal with Mr. Nick years ago that he would hand over his child Valentina (Lily Cole) once she reached her 16th birthday. Now days away, Nick shows up to collect with a proposition — if Parnassus can save five souls from his evil grasp (inside of Parnassus's imagination, naturally), then the doc can keep Valentina. With a stroke of good luck, Parnassus crosses paths with Tony (Heath Ledger), a former businessman with the gift of persuasion.

If all of this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Imaginarium is positioned as a morality tale, drawing connections to Parnassus as a god who allows free will, but what's the message? The story seems so concerned with being kooky and approaching larger, ambitious themes that it never grounds itself long enough to reach any "aha!" moment.

There are still a few bright spots. Tom Waits is particularly charming as a rascally, mustached Mr. Nick, and Andrew Garfield (as a young man pining for Valentina) has an on-screen charisma that makes him a promising new face to watch. I even appreciated much of the over-the-top surrealist scenery, which shouldn't be surprising given director Terry Gilliam's unique brand of whimsy (the imagery mimics Monty Python in several instances).

You can't blame the guy for having creativity; I just wish that Gilliam used a little more restraint here instead of working himself into a fantasy frenzy. The mumbo-jumbo overshadows even Ledger's performance, which could have been great if given some clearer development. Instead, I was left wishing that his brilliant turn in The Dark Knight had been the actor's swan song.


If you'd like to review a movie you've seen recently, check out the Movie Reviews Group in community. I may even feature your critique on the site!

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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Join The Conversation
skiskey skiskey 4 years
I LOVED it! I'd never heard of the movie, then when I saw the transition from Heath Ledger to Johnny Depp to Jude Law to Colin Ferrel ...I was surprised and thought it was brilliant! The original reviewer thought it was over the top .....not so considering Terry Gilliam's past work. I actually wanted a bit MORE of the fantasy element. Great film, I enjoyed it. To critics: it's a fantasy movie ....get a real job! Do you know what critic means?
Akasha Akasha 6 years
Whether you like it or not really depends on if this type of film is your thing of not. I thought Mirrormask was brilliant, but some of the reviews I saw of it were horrible. I kind of feel the same way about this film. I saw it twice, once at a screening and once because my friends wanted to see it Christmas Day, Sherlock Was sold out. I have to admit the first time I left the theater a confused. Trying to decide if Gillliam was a genius or a madman and what the difference is between the two. After the second viewing I found I enjoyed it better because I wasn't wondering about an ending so I was kind of free to pay attention to the smaller details.
Akasha Akasha 6 years
Whether you like it or not really depends on if this type of film is your thing of not. I thought Mirrormask was brilliant, but some of the reviews I saw of it were horrible. I kind of feel the same way about this film. I saw it twice, once at a screening and once because my friends wanted to see it Christmas Day, Sherlock Was sold out. I have to admit the first time I left the theater a confused. Trying to decide if Gillliam was a genius or a madman and what the difference is between the two. After the second viewing I found I enjoyed it better because I wasn't wondering about an ending so I was kind of free to pay attention to the smaller details.
PinkNC PinkNC 6 years
Not my kind of film.
PinkNC PinkNC 6 years
Not my kind of film.
audreystar audreystar 6 years
Thanks for the review Buzz. I doubt I will see it in the theaters but it would probably be something I will attempt when it is on the movie channels. But I must say seeing Heath Ledger in that first photo gives me shivers. God he will be missed. :(
bigestivediscuit bigestivediscuit 6 years
You hit the nail on the head, Buzz - I thought exactly the same thing. It was a total waste of my money. Too ambitious and way too try-hard.
juliarose23 juliarose23 6 years
oh i'm so disappointed! the movie seemed strange but i was going to see it anyway because of heath ledger. hopefully some people will still like it. it has quite an all-star cast!
juliarose23 juliarose23 6 years
oh i'm so disappointed! the movie seemed strange but i was going to see it anyway because of heath ledger. hopefully some people will still like it.it has quite an all-star cast!
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