Over the years, Terry Gilliam has become something of a brand name, leading moviegoers to expect a generous display of visual razzle-dazzle and an offbeat sensibility; the problem often lies in his story or screenplay. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, written by Gilliam and his frequent collaborator Charles McKeown, is one of his better endeavors: a bit rambling, but enjoyable.
Christopher Plummer plays the title character, who…
who operates a quaint theatrical troupe that travels around London in an old-fashioned caravan and engages audience members in its performance, using a magic mirror. The unsuspecting volunteers have no idea what lies in store for them. What’s more, it turns out Doctor Parnassus made a deal with the Devil, aka Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), a long time ago and a deadline is drawing near. Meanwhile, the troupe acquires a mysterious new member whom they rescue from the brink of death; he’s played by the late Heath Ledger.
There’s no point explaining any more of the serpentine story. Suffice it to say that Gilliam leads us through a series of imaginative experiences, mostly on the other side of the looking glass. Computer graphics have opened up a whole new world for Gilliam and he makes the most of those tools. But the film’s most unusual “special effect” is a quick-change moment when Ledger’s place is taken by Johnny Depp…then Jude Law…then Colin Farrell. You’re not sure whether to believe your eyes at first, but the substitution actually works quite well in the context of the film.
If you have a taste for the offbeat, and don’t mind a story that wanders a bit, I think you’ll enjoy what Gilliam has to offer.