The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009) — This movie had me right up until the end when things came apart a little at the end narratively speaking. The main thing to get excitied about is a return to form for Terry Gilliam, whose last great film was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from 1998 (2005’s The Brothers Grimm was studio’d to a mainstream death, and the same year’s Tideland was rather alienating to most viewer’s [yours truly included although I liked a lot of things about it]). But now Gilliam is back doing what Gilliam does best (working with Charles McKeown again for the first time since 1988’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen): telling a fantastic outlandish tale with striking yet skewed visuals that could only come from the mind of the man who did the animation for Monty Python. The story is about the wager between mystic/performer Doctor Parnassus and the Devil. Parnussus is well-played by Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits finally plays the role he was born to play as “Mr. Nick,” the devil. The prize in their wager is Parnassus’s 15-year-old daughter (played by 21-year-old Brit model Lily Cole), to become Nick’s on her 16th birthday (which is 3 days away at the movie’s start). She has a romantic scene with Colin Farrell at one point and even if she is really 21, it’s kind of creepy seeing Farrell getting physical with a character who is supposed to 16 (even though that’s legal over there, apparently). Matters are complicated when the traveling performers rescue a con man who has been lynched (played in the real world by the late Heath Ledger). Parnassus has magic mirrors in which people are transported into visually stunning world of their own imaginations where at some point they will face a choice that will either have them emerge from the mirror a better person, or never emerge at all. The opening establishes that people can look different once inside the mirror, which is how the film-makers solved the problems presented by the untimely passing of Ledger. In one woman’s fantasy he appears as Johnny Depp, who is the woman’s fantasy man. In another he is Jude Law (who is some kind of huckster).  Lastly he is played (with ample sleaze) by Colin Farrell, who is earlier establish as the “father” in an advertisement in a magazine that Parnassus’ daughter uses to fantasize about a more normal life. It all makes perfect sense within the context of the movie. Depp delivers a speech about the immortality of stars like James Dean who died young and you’d have to be in a coma not to understand the subtext. If it sounds like I’ve given the whole movie away, I haven’t. It’s still well worth seeing. I have some problems with the end, but the way there is weird and amazing. Terry Gilliam is back and that is reason to celebrate.

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