The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

After months of anticipation, Terry Gilliam’s latest film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has finally come to screens in the United States. If you aren’t following the movie world closely, odds are you haven’t heard of this movie. It’s puzzling that the film hasn’t received more publicity, because it features an all-star lineup of Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Tom Waits and Heath Ledger in his final performance.

The story begins with a performance from the ancient Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his traveling theatre troupe, which features his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), a young showman named Anton (Andrew Garfield) and a dwarf named Percy (Verne Troyer). The main attraction the troupe offers is a mirror that enables participants to enter the Doctor’s imagination and live their fantasies.

As the back story unfolds, the viewer learns that Parnassus has made a deal with the Devil (Tom Waits), or Mr. Nick, as he’s called. This deal grants everlasting life to Parnassus, but the downside is his daughter will become Mr. Nick’s property on her sixteenth birthday, which is three days away.

While traveling the streets of London one night, the troupe stumbles across Tony (Heath Ledger), a charismatic and mysterious young man. Once they save him from the predicament they find him in, he proves to be a welcomed addition to their struggling show, and replaces Anton as the show’s raconteur. Meanwhile, Parnassus makes a new deal with Mr. Nick, dictating that whoever can collect five souls first will get Valentina.

Production came to a stand-still in early 2008, when Heath Ledger passed away. Gilliam took special care in reassigning his role to close friends of Ledger’s: Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Cleverly, each member of this trio of stars portrays a different transformation of Tony in his trips into the imaginarium.

While a majority of this film takes place in a trippy fantasy realm, the fantasy and reality are blended seamlessly together so well that it’s nearly painless to watch, even if you’re not so keen on the fantasy genre. The best thing about this movie, and some of the best cinematic trickery I’ve seen in recent times, was the transformations from Heath Ledger to Johnny Depp to Heath Ledger to Jude Law to Heath Ledger to Colin Farrell. When each transformation takes place, the viewer has to look twice to see if it’s Ledger or Depp or if it’s back to Ledger.

People who go to the theatre only to see Johnny Depp, Jude Law or Colin Farrell will be disappointed, as each of them are limited to only five minutes of screen time each. But that’s understandable, when you consider that it was really Heath Ledger’s role, and the others were just brought in to fill gaps.

If you want to see a movie that is different from anything that has been in theatres for the past year, or will be in theatres for the next year, I would recommend this movie. If you want to see a Jack Sparrow, Dr. Watson, or Alexander the Great type film, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.