Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Throughout his career, Terry Gilliam has been met with polarized responses; he has been applauded for his distinctly imaginative visual style while being criticized for the lack of cohesive plot structures within his films. He has inspired a legion of cult fans that ritualistically watch Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen while enduring many critical and box office failures. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will surely continue this trend of divisiveness.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus follows a sideshow revue traveling through London, led by the eponymously named Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). The members of Doctor Parnassus’ roaming circus include his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), Parnasuss’ dwarf-sized confidant Percy (Verne Troyer), and Anton, a young man that Doctor Parnassus saved from living on the street. The group travels together in a wagon with a backdoor that opens up to become a makeshift stage. They perform in front of pubs, convenience stores, carnivals, and any other place with a potential audience. Dr. Parnassus’ exhibition consists of the Doctor sitting trancelike on the stage while the rest of the performers act as carnival barkers luring patrons up to the front of the show. Most puzzingly of all is an onstage mirror that doubles as a doorway into the Imaginarium, a Dr. Seuss-like world of wonder that resides inside of Parnassus’ own mind.
As the narrative unfolds, the audience finds out that the good doctor is actually a 1000-year-old monk who previously had made a series of bets and deals with the Devil (Tom Waits). These unholy pacts led to Parnassus being cursed with eternal life and the promise that he would turn his daughter over to beelzebub on her 16th birthday. In a last ditch effort to save his daughter’s soul from Old Scratch, Parnassus agrees to a contest with the stipulation that if he can claim five souls in the two days before his daughter’s birthday, she can go free. The traveling troupe decides to dance with the devil one more time after coming by the help of Tony (Heath Ledger), a mysterious, smooth-talking, amnesiac, former charity worker that the group rescued from being hung off a bridge.
Confused? Well,the plot descends even further into a fever dream. Some key points: Anton discovers that Tony left his job because he was accused of harvesting organs from the children of his charity. Tony abuses a child-aged version of Anton at a fundraising auction. Tony lures a middle-aged woman into a sulfuric Hades motel surrounded by the river Styx, all of which exist within the outer limits of the Imaginarium. Russian mobsters chase Tony. Tony’s appearance changes everytime he enters the Imaginarium (Johnny Depp/Jude Law/Colin Farrel). Tony is mooned by a dancing line of violence loving cops. Parnassus’ enters into the dreamworld of his own mind. Valentina waltzes with the devil. Tony is lynched. Tony expects to survive the lynching but Parnasssus does a switcheroo with his lucky flute. Dr. Parnassus searches to the ends of the world to find Valentina. Valentina goes through the door to hell. Parnassus continues to live eternally and do puppet shows with his midget friend. Does any of this make any fucking sense? No. Does Terry Gilliam care? Not a fucking chance. Rather he wants to seduce you with his vibrant and fantastic imagery so that he can weaken your defenses and violently mindfuck you.