OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS
STARRING: Heath Ledger, Christopher
Plummer, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Colin
Farrell, Jude Law
2009, 123 Minutes, Directed by:
Blessed with the extraordinary gift of guiding the imaginations of others,
Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is cursed with a dark secret. An
inveterate gambler, thousands of years ago he made a bet with the devil, Mr.
Nick (Tom Waits), in which he won immortality. Centuries later, on meeting his
one true love, Dr. Parnassus made another deal with the devil, trading his
immortality for youth, on condition that when his daughter reached her 16th
birthday, she would become the property of Mr Nick. Valentina (Lily Cole) is now
rapidly approaching this ‘coming of age’ milestone and Dr. Parnassus is
desperate to protect her from her impending fate. Mr. Nick arrives to collect
but, always keen to make a bet, renegotiates the wager. Now the winner of
Valentina will be determined by whoever seduces the first five souls. Enlisting
a series of wild, comical and compelling characters in his journey, Dr.
Parnassus promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man that helps him
win. In this captivating, explosive and wonderfully imaginative race against
time, Dr. Parnassus must fight to save his daughter in a never-ending landscape
of surreal obstacles – and undo the mistakes of his past once and for all! Also
starring Heath Ledger, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Colin
Farrell, and Jude Law.
At the time of its release
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was marketed as Heath Ledger’s last
movie and a return to form for director Terry Gilliam (Brazil,
It is at least one of these
things. The Dark Knight actor did indeed
tragically die of an accident overdose whilst working on it; whether it is a
return to form for director Gilliam is however questionable. We are talking of
the man behind Brazil here . . .
Fortunately for the film’s
investors, the actor’s untimely demise didn’t result in the movie being scrapped
like director Gilliam’s ill-fated Don Quixote project. Instead the story was
rewritten and the movie re-edited so that Ledger’s character could be also be
portrayed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.
It was an inspired move and
having one character being portrayed by four actors wouldn’t have worked in any
other director’s movie. Here it fits in with the general weirdness of
Unfortunately much of the
film’s problems also stems from this rewrite: Ledger’s character is supposed to
be ambiguous, but things just come across as muddled instead. Is he an anti-hero
striving for redemption like in Gilliam’s The Fisher King? Or is he
simply the bad guy? Logically the narrative focus should be on Christopher
Plummer’s character but Heath Ledger’s and the side-characters’ presence
distracts from this. The end result is an uneven and erratic film that is
difficult to emotionally connect with.
Still, the film has some
typical Gilliam eye-popping visuals and is largely entertaining. However as with
many of the director’s more recent output one cannot escape the feeling that it
could have been so much better.