Published Dec 24, 2009With characters on the edge of society, free from social order, surrounded by dilapidated buildings and other forms of urban decay, Imaginarium is undoubtedly a Terry Gilliam film, and a return to form for a director whose forays into the mainstream (Brothers Grimm) and the obliquely esoteric (Tideland) proved less than successful. Here, the struggle between blissful ignorance and passionate sagacity takes literal form in a film that should confuse many but speak volumes to some.
Faustian bargains compound as a travelling theatre company, led by the immortal Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), provides wayward viewers a look into their souls when passing through a mirror imaginarium, where they must choose between whimsy and base human proclivities dictated by the devil (played by Tom Waits).
While these righteous figures battle for the heart of mankind, time ticks down in the real world for the daughter of Doctor Parnassus, Valentina (Lily Cole), whose fate is tied to a century-old bet. After a failed suicide attempt, Tony (Heath Ledger), a philanthropist of questionable moral character, winds up in the middle of this fable, ultimately deciding the fates of all involved.
The wildly exaggerated environments on the other side of the mirror of introspection won't surprise anyone familiar with the animations of Mr. Gilliam. Talking hot air balloons, ladders to the sky and a river made of serpent tongues are just a few of the incarnations on display, as Tony transforms into various physical bodies on a CGI canvas. It creates not only an unhinged fantastical world for the film to exist within but also provides logicality to Ledger's transformation into Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.
While undoubtedly chaotic in execution, deliberately resembling the madness of modern social structures and implicit cynicism, this capricious parable remains grounded with a self-reflexivity and sense of humour that know exactly when to give way to dramatic didactics.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus manages to be fun and imminently watchable while delivering a sharp social criticism for us to think about. (E1)