The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Stellar cast and whimsical director it may have, but the truth is, audiences will flock to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus for one reason – the ill-fated last performance of Heath Ledger. The headlines surrounding Ledger’s death midway through filming and director Terry Gilliam’s subsequent recruiting of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to finish the job as a tribute to their mate have long surpassed any other press related to the film. To the point where most people gleefully standing in line for a ticket to it would struggle to tell you what the plot actually involved, and also struggle to care. This fact is even given a nod by Gilliam himself in the end credits, which bill the film as ‘from Heath Ledger & friends’.


Your average punter could be in for a nasty surprise on actually entering the cinema, though, as a) it’s far from Ledger’s best performance and b) this is a film strictly for Gilliam fans. As an Australian, I followed Ledger’s career with patriotic enthusiasm from his early days in local soaps right through to The Dark Knight, and I’ve decided there are two types of performances he generally gives. There’s the fully committed kind, where he inhabits the character to an almost freakish degree, as seen in Brokeback Mountain, and the half-arsed Casanova kind, where he seems to pretty much play himself in a costume. Unfortunately (and, let’s face it, quite understandably, as he was obviously battling a pretty major prescription drug addiction at the time), his Imaginarium role veers more towards the latter, his accent constantly twanging back and forth between Londoner and Sydneysider. Not the best note to go out on, sadly.

Then there’s the film itself. Gilliam, graduate of the Monty Python school of wackiness, inhabits a certain fantastical, surreal sphere as a director. If you dig that, this film is an example of him at his best. The whole thing is a sumptous visual smorgasboard to behold – the fantasy world that appears when audience members of Dr Parnassus’s Imaginarium step through the mirror allows trippy scenes of lily stepping stones, cloud ladders and cross-dressing policemen to take centre stage. That the plot becomes less and less relevant or clear as the film continues is where it will lose most people, as it did me.

As long as you don’t come expecting a normal cinema experience, it’s possible to enjoy this movie. But overall, it left me feeling quite unsatisfied. Whether that was due to the nonsensical nature of the proceedings, or the fact I couldn’t really lose myself in said nonsensicalness due to having to confront the death of a talented and beloved fellow Aussie right up there on screen, I don’t know.

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