What I’ve Been Watching: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009).
Who’s Responsible: Terry Gilliam (writer-director), Charles McKeown (co-writer), Heath Ledger and Friends, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits (stars).
Why I Watched It: Mostly Gilliam, plus that I’m Not There casting (see below).
Seen It Before? No.
Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 6
Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 3
Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6
And? I always feel obligated to watch Gilliam’s stuff, mostly because he’s the only ex-Python to have become a real force behind the camera, but alas, I sometimes have trouble getting into them and/or following the storyline, as happened with this one. Offhand, the one I most remember enjoying was Twelve Monkeys, while the one I’d most like to see is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Sadly, although this was well-made and had some great people in it, it really didn’t grab me the way I had hoped, but it’s a miracle it got finished.
The plot involves a series of bets between elderly, immortal ex-monk Parnassus (Energizer Bunny Plummer, also seen in Matheson’s Somewhere in Time) and the Devil, “Mr. Nick” (a typically oddball role for singer Waits). The bets involve Dr. Parnassus’ immortality and the fate of his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), who with assistant Anton (Andrew Garfield) and dwarf Percy (Verne Troyer) forms his troupe. At their carnival “Imaginarium,” visitors enter various Gilliamesque worlds, and some never come back.
Heath Ledger, fresh from his triumphant performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, plays Tony, a mysterious man who is saved from hanging by—and joins—the troupe. Or, at least, he started out to, but his premature death in 2008 led Gilliam, whose funding was predicated on Ledger’s participation, to believe the project was kaput. He then hit upon the innovation of retooling the film to let Ledger’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Ferrell play various manifestations of Tony inside the Imaginarium.
Of course, it’s impossible to un-know something, and I was to some degree aware of this when I started watching the film, but I’m betting that somebody who wasn’t would totally go with it. I mean, they would realize it wasn’t Ledger, but somehow, within the context of the story, it made as much sense as anything that happens in the Imaginarium, where some of the visuals quite powerfully evoke the Python-era Gilliam’s animation. If for that reason alone, the film is worth a look, and I will probably revisit it another time.