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Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Good or bad – and lately it's been mostly bad (The Brothers Grimm, anyone?) – there's always one thing you can say about a Terry Gilliam film: it won't look like anything else out there. Telling an interesting story, on the other hand, isn't always his strong point. So the good news here is that Gilliam's created a story that does an excellent job of allowing his visual imagination free reign while giving us a reason to care about the characters walking through the results of that imagination.

The immortal Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) travels London putting on a rickety carnival show that allows people to have their dreams reflected back to them. Unfortunately, Parnassus' various deals with the devil (Tom Waits) over the years means he now has to find five customers in three days or the Devil gets his daughter. Fortunately, he has the mysterious hanged amnesiac "George" (Heath Ledger, not on his best form here in what is really a supporting role) to help him. But what exactly is George's game?

Despite Ledger's death during filming the story holds together surprisingly well (Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Firth play George inside Parnassus' dream world). It makes emotional rather than logical sense, but that's enough to support Gilliam's astounding and mind-bending fantasy landscapes. They're more than worth the price of admission; you won't see anything else one screen like the things you'll see here.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #466)

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