The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus... Not As Expected

I've been looking forward to this movie for at least a year. It was to be Heath Ledger's final film (unless some dick in the future does that horrible thing where they take film clips of dead actors and splice them into other things for not other reason than to cash in on said dead actor) *cough* and looked absolutely mad.

Heath really went out on a high note (Dark Knight, I'm Not There, Brokeback Mountain). However, he did pass away half way through filming this Terry Gilliam creation (Time Bandits; Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Never fear, there were plenty of other actors ready to help finish off the film. Enter Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrel. I'll leave you to discover how they got around the whole "that's not Heath!" problem... it was rather clever. Unfortunately, it did sort of send the film off track a little, leaving the end... well, I'll get to that.

The film begins in what you may think is 1600s London; a dank, cobbled street, some unconscious people on the floor, dressed in rags and a horse plodding along pulling a rather large cart. The cart unfolds into a quaint little stage where a boy dressed as Mercury, a pretty young lass and a dwarf (not a midget) try to garner the attention of rowdy, drunk nightclub goers.

Yeah, nightclub goers. This isn't 17th century London. It's the modern day, full of thuggy British drunks and violent policemen (a little song and dance routine much later, performed by the Sir Ian Blair Memorial Choir, makes a brilliant comment on recent brutish police behaviour). One less than sober yob accidentally enters the Imaginarium while he's harassing the girl (Lily Cole), thus we are introduced to this weird other reality and the choices that must be made there.

Parnussus himself is an ANCIENT old man (played by Christopher Plummer). He is crotchety, an alcoholic and very much not part of the modern world... and has a sometimes dark past. Enter Tom Waits as Mr Nick and his little games, deals and soul stealing... and his awesomely gravely voice. You may know Tom Waits as a singer. I say singer... think Bob Dylan after a heavy night of smoking and drinking. If you don't know his stuff, go hunt it down (lazy me). You're more likely to know him as the crazed Renfield in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. He makes a quirky, very uncool, un-swarthy, yet likeable and almost sympathetic Devil; you sort of get the feeling he just wants to make friends and he does get his world view shattered in the final act. You'll understand what I mean when you get there.

The film does take a while to get anywhere and perhaps half an hour to get around to introducing us to Heath Ledger's character... doing the hangman's jig beneath London Bridge in a posh white suit, with weird symbols on his forehead. Most of the other characters treat him as a threat, while the female lead (an almost sixteen year old girl) obviously fancies him, much to the chagrin of her young male friend. The Devil, apparently, has been after him for a while... how true that is and why he's been after him, well, that comes in towards the end... sorta, maybe.

Blah, blah, blah... deals with the Devil, amnesia, deceit. I'll not ruin the unfolding of the story, but eventually we get more scenes within the Imaginarium, with more people having to make "the choice". As the trailer suggests, the Imaginrium is bright, bizarre and other worldly. A great film for watching the goings on in the background (lookout for all the little nooses, both in the real world and the Imaginarium). Within this weird place, choices can lead to joy and ecstasy or terror and darkness, salvation or damnation.

I think that may have been some kind of message or theme; choices and freedom. Without choices there is no freedom, but the wrong choices can lead to the loss of freedom and the idea of facing up to the consequences of your choices... or I may be reading way too much into it. As I said; Heath's death seems to have thrown the makers for a loop, leaving the final act a bit fuzzy. Things that are begun earlier in the film to peeter out and go nowhere. Symbols and metaphors get lost and forgotten. This all left me wondering if these events and ideas were ever really there, or if I was expecting more from certain images and lines of dialogue.

I do that sometimes...

It doesn't have a very clear cut ending either. There is, I HAVE to tell you, a death. An unexpected and shocking death... a murder no less (remember that; it's a premeditated murder... but for a good reason?). It's not exactly a sad ending, certainly not a happy ending. It's definitely a confused and rushed ending, trying to go in several directions at once and not having the time to do it in.

Actually, now I think about it; the ending has a similar feel to that of The Time Bandits... so perhaps all that was intentional and not a result of the main actor dying before filming had finished.

With it being a Terry Gilliam film you expect comedy, and it is there. However, this is not a straight up funny movie. It's actually often dark and uncomfortable. But it just has some laughs. For the record; many of these are very un-PC. Let me give you a quick example; middle class, middle aged English woman asks if she can adopt the unprivileged black child... who is in fact Verne Troyer in a fuzzy wig and blacked up. Do not watch this movie if you do not understand that this sort of humour is designed to point out flaws in society and to drive thought processes... or if you think girls who have just turned sixteen should not have sex with 30 something men and smoke.

You've been warned, yah?

All in all, it's a good film and I'd definitely watch it again; I'll probably get the DVD. Just... don't expect it to make TOO much sense. But hey... Heath Ledger, Jude Law, Johnny Depp (if you're into him...); who needs it to make sense? Oh, and the young lad playing the other love interest (Andrew Garfield... who does a damn fine British accent) is rather nummy too. The acting on all parts is excellent; Heath Ledger once again proving that he was so much more than a pretty face (the git).

It gets a big rec from me. So yeah; go see it!

To check out the rest of the cast and watch the trailer (did I mention I was lazy today?), head over to its IMDB page.
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