Jan 25, 2010

[Movies] The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusIt's one thing to think of the sadness of certain actors and actresses no longer being amongst the living and watching their movies still. Sure, we miss them and we feel bad about them never making another movie, but as long as they had full lives or rich careers, the pain isn't as bad.

But there are those special cases of actors who died in what many people perceive to be a time that is "too soon", like for young actors with significant promise. One such passing that strikes a chord in a lot of people's minds is the death of the highly-talented Heath Ledger. His career was a short yet interesting one with many unique twists and turns and truly stellar moments. He was definitely going big places with his performance in The Dark Knight but of course things ended much too soon.

And so it became even more difficult to watch his last work, the movie that he died making. This is that movie.

Promotional one-sheet for The Imaginarium of D...Image via Wikipedia

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is another creative film from the mind of Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam. Often known for his highly fantastical and unusual movies and projects, Terry Gilliam remained true to form with this movie in many ways.

At the center of this story is a man that we only know as Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), who appears to be nothing more than a man with a cheap sideshow act. Together with him is his daughter Valentina (Lily Troyer). Their "show" is centered around a false mirror which supposedly leads into the Imaginarium, a virtual plane within the mind of Doctor Parnassus. Everything seems perfectly normal and mundane until someone volunteers to enter the mirror to see the magical world beyond.

But the story is more complicated than that - one that involves a bet with a mysterious man we know as Mr. Nick (Tom Walts) and a man with no memory (Heath Ledger) that not-so-merry troupe finds hanging by the neck under a bridge. This is where our story really begins.

The story starts out to be rather confusing and it didn't help that the version we watched in a local theater had badly overlaid subtitles for some reason. It made watching a bit more difficult that it should have been and I just don't understand why a movie that was pretty much completely in English needed English subtitles to begin with. In time more and more of the story gets revealed and it does make for an interesting experience.

Given that Heath Ledger died during the making of this movie, the biggest question of many is how badly was the movie affected. It was smart to resort to alternative actors who take on Heath's role in the various Imaginarium sequences in order to keep the continuity going yet finding a good reason to explain why his face changes. They're all still the same character, but they take on the faces appropriate to the scene. You will feel that later in the movie there was clearly a need to re-write the story in order to compensate for Ledger's death. It doesn't make the ending feel totally bad, but you will feel the slight awkwardness that comes with a rewrite that significant.

The story at its core is a very simple one but a good one - the classical themes of good and evil involved were very nice. My partner and I were thinking that it may not have even been just about good and evil - it was more like being about the safe and mundane versus the wildly creative and imaginative. Doctor Parnassus represents the power of the mind to find beauty and wonder in the world, or something along those lines. That's the power he offers those brave enough to stay within the right parts of the Imaginarium.

The visuals in the movie were pretty stunning but not necessarily beyond what Gilliam normally comes up with. Many items may hold some value to the overall story but more often than not they're almost completely random and just interesting - but that's one of the many things that I love about Gilliam's works. The movie does not disappoint in this area, at least in my opinion.

As a last movie of his life and his career, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is not a bad send-off for Heath Ledger when you really get down to it. It deserves 4 midgets (and not dwarves) out of a possible 5.

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