Dr. Parnassus a Cinema Oddity

The Imaginarium of Dr. ParnassusAt last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Director Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) appeared with actor Verne Troyer to promote the completed production of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.  The film stars acting legend Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus, Lily Cole as his daughter (Valentina), Verne Troyer as Percy, Andrew Garfield as Anton, Tom Waits as Mr. Nick (aka the devil himself) and the late, great Heath Ledger as Tony.

Dr. Parnassus is over a thousand years old, though he doesn’t look a day over 80.  He travels the land in his horse-drawn, collapsible stage with assistant Percy, daughter Valentina and performer Anton in tow.  Within the roving wooden contraption, along with a quaint yet miniscule set of sleeping quarters, is a mirror of magical proportions.  The smooth, foil-like appearance of the reflective furniture piece allows those who pass through it to enter a land of their own imagination.  Once inside, the person is eventually presented with one of two routes; an easy pleasure fix or a rugged, noble climb to eternal peace.  The decision ultimately leads to giving up your soul to the damnation of Mr. Nick or the liberation of Dr. Parnassus.  This of course brings us to Parnassus’ deal with the devil many moons ago, of which he was granted his eternal life.  In exchange he had to give up his daughter upon her 16th birthday.  Poor Valentina is about to reach that birthday, but the doll-faced lass has no clue what her future holds.  Let the games begin. 

Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

As many of you know by now, this was Heath Ledger’s last film.  Ledger had been going back and forth from the States to England working on The Dark Knight and Dr. Parnassus at the same time.  While his work was done (for the most part) on the Batman blockbuster, Gilliam’s plans for him were far from finished on the set of Parnassus.  To fill in the roles of Tony’s mirror jaunts, friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell filled in and did what had to be done.  Farrell had the most work of the three and was impressive enough for his time on the screen; nevertheless, the unconventional story was confusing and frustrating. 

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

For reasons unbeknownst to me, this film was not released with a lot of marketing or advertising and showtimes are anemic at best.  For instance, the multiple-screen cinema I went to was only showing The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus for two evening shows and nothing else.  Was it for fear of sinking more money into a production whose creators lacked confidence in the work?  Such a reason could certainly be a valid one as this film was head-scratching unusual and all over the place in its storytelling. 

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

The plot felt uneven and broken though the acting was a saving grace.  Still, the movie felt empty and for Mr. Nick being the devil, his constant wagering with a human to win more souls seemed a bit hard to swallow.  If this guy really is ‘The Devil,’ why would he need to make a deal with someone who had nothing to do with the souls he intends to claim?  I tried to stay optimistic about this movie  throughout its 122-minute run, but it just played out too ineffectively for me to care or connect with any of the story’s characters.  The attempts of dry humor conjured a chuckle here and there, but weren’t enough to offer redemption in the end.  Pass on the doctor’s orders and leave The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus off the must-see list. 


The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus Theatrical Poster




1 Response to “Dr. Parnassus a Cinema Oddity”

  1. Brian White

    I’ll tell you what. Despite being a big Heath fan I think I am totally skipping this one, even when it comes out on home video. The footage shown at Comic-Con last year did nothing to make me one bit interested in this. I knew you were not going to like it, but I was curious to see what you would say despite my sentiments. I agree with your statement…this movie does look like it is all over the place!