Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Is there a more gifted, talented, over-hyped creator of visionary bullshit than director Terry Gilliam? Yes there are a lot of conflicting words in that last poorly typed sentence but Terry Gilliam is artist that exudes conflict. An awful long time ago a young Terry Gilliam co-directed ĎMonty Python and the Holy Grailí and that was one of those movies that pretty much cements you as a legend. Terry Gilliamís fans are almost as fervent about the manís work as Kevin Smithís fans, as they would surely end your life should you say something that results in less than praise for a Terry Gilliam movie, but we donít care about fandom here at the FCU. I absolutely loved ĎTime Banditsí when I was kid and still love it today, but my love of Time Bandits didnít make me love ĎBaron Muchausení or ĎBrothers Grimmí, just as the fondness I have for ĎTwelve Monkeysí or ĎBrazilí didnít do anything to endear me to Mr. Gilliamís latest film ĎThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassusí. Nothing. Not that I hated this movie, and as it wore on I actually started to enjoy it some, but ultimately it was some very beautiful bullshit.

Christopher Plummer is the title character of Doctor Parnassus, a traveling carnival side show attraction who is working with his lovely daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), her young paramour Anton (Andrew Garfield) and the doctorís lifelong friend and his conscious Percy (Verne Troyer). Early on, the movie is somewhat hard to get a grip on. There is a magic mirror on the traveling stage of this crew and should one enter this mirror I believe the individual enters into the imagination of Doctor Parnassus, or at least your imagination via his imagination, if that makes any sense. For instance we see a young drunken man enter the mirror, become somebody else on the other side of the mirror for reasons which are pretty clear considering this films star died on us in real life, and then I think he dies in the mirror. Iím not sure. Maybe. Who knows.

Then one day, while traveling between destinations, our crew finds a man hanging by the neck from a bridge. They rescue this cat in a white suit with a flute crammed down his throat, and though this young man has lost his memory, eventually we learn that his name is Tony (the late Heath Ledger). Who exactly is this Tony? Well thatís kind of complicated so weíre not going to get into all of that but what little we know about Tony is for starters heís a con man. Speaking of con men, Doctor Parnassus is in the middle of a conundrum with the ultimate con man, Satan (Tom Waits). Apparently the doctor made a deal with Satan an awful long time ago with the end game of this deal being the doctor having to turn over his beloved Valentina to the Lord of the Underworld. The good thing for the doctor is that Satan doesnít like these things to end and so he keeps prolonging this inevitability with more games of chance for the doctor to play which Parnassus invariably jumps on board for, despite the protestations of the docís friend Percy.

While the bet thing is pretty clear, there is the curious case of Tony to deal with who is apparently on the run from Russian mobsters and is jumping in and out of the Imaginarium becoming different versions of himself which brings Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell into the picture. What does any of this have to do with anything? Well that too is a very good question. How you will receive your answer to this question depends on your patience level and your ability to decipher the imaginings of Terry Gilliamís ability to create beautiful bullshit. This film also highlights the simple fact that if your star dies in the middle of your movie, not only is this bad for this person and his family, itís also very bad for your movie.

I get this magazine every month called ĎPostí, and industry periodical on media production and the previous issue had an interview with Terry Gilliam describing the challenges on finishing this movie after Heath Ledger tragically died, among other topics concerning this film. He put a mighty good spin on Ledgerís passing and how was able to make the film work but I donít think so. This movie felt like large parts were missing, highlighted by the fact that at times this movie was completely lucid and made perfect sense followed by elements which seemed completely disconnected from the rest of the movie. Even Gilliamís most bizarre works are at least fluid. As we would expect from a Gilliam film the visuals are spectacular and wildly creative and the performances turned in by Plummer, Ledger, Waits and Lily Cole were impressive. Lily Cole, in addition to being physically larger than everybody else in the movie looks like she was drawn by some Japanese anime artist with her way to large round eyes and heart shaped face and Iím of the mind that this talented child has a bright future ahead of her.

But when our guest actors stepped in for Ledger and inhabited the Imaginarium, this is where the exercise got mighty colorful and mighty confusing for me, and for the life of me I couldnít really make heads or tales of what was really going on. I had a clueÖ an inkling if you willÖ but for the most part I was pretty damn confused. Naturally there are those out there who didnít have this problem with this movie and I envy these people. Were I the lying type I could make up some benign bullshit on the hidden meanings beneath this incomplete nonsense but I havenít had to that since college so Iíve forgotten how, but for the more gifted of you out there this movie may be clear as Vancouver rain.

Terry Gilliam is still my main man and I will stand in a snow storm to see one of his movies, legend status does earn you at least that, and I did enjoy certain elements of this movie, but Iím still of the mind that Heath Ledger passing stopped Gilliam from completely finishing this movie, despite his best efforts. You see as far as I know Sony Pictures isnít in the business of plopping down thirty million dollars to NOT release a movie no matter who dies in the middle making it.

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