Nearly two years after the tragic death of Heath Ledger, his final piece has come to fruition and opened for the world to see. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was the last film he had a chance to work on, but not complete. It was because of the kindness of actors and friends of Heath: Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepping in to complete his part in a likeness of Heath himself, that it was possible to finish.
Doctor Parnassus is the story of a traveling theater company, or more like carnies putting on a show each night where ever they can to collect some money throughout London. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) has a little secret though. He can subject any of the viewers into the world of their dreams by entering into the Imaginarium, which is possible by Parnassus putting himself in a trance, and customers to walk through the mirror. He is also a betting man, and makes a few deals with the devil, Mr. Nick played cunningly by Tom Waits. One of the deals he made in the past would entitle the devil to his daughter once she turns sixteen, which is right around the corner. Luckily, Mr. Nick loves a game and sets a new wager, and if Parnassus can win, his daughter will be free.
Heath Ledger comes into the story as a stranger who has lost his memory. He is found being hanged under a bridge until death and the traveling group find him and save him. He can’t recall who he is, so they suggest that he work for them, until his memory is jogged. He instantly starts bringing new customers to the show with his charm and charisma and soon remembers who he was, and continues to hide his true self from everyone, as he was not a good man.
Lily Cole plays Valentina, the daughter of Parnassus and is just as cute as a button. She is a fairly new actress and shows a lot of potential. I can’t possibly see anyone turning her down for a role as you can’t seem to take your eyes off of her. Andrew Garfield plays Anton, another part of the show, and is madly in love with Valentina, although, she doesn’t seem to notice. Verne Troyer is also part of the gang as Percy, the smallest, yet most important part of the act. Without Percy, Parnassus would just be lost. He guides him, like a wife would have done for him, had she not passed, and consoles him and gives Parnassus someone to confide in.
Doctor Parnassus was played magically by Christopher Plummer. In the opening scenes, I could hardly even recognize Plummer with all of the makeup on his face and the strange costumes he wore. I really loved Plummer in this role. Not only did it reach far out of the normal for his list of films, but he played the hell out of the role. When it called for seriousness, I was right there with him, and when the mood was light, he could easily make me laugh.
The Imaginarium is really what makes this film so different from the rest. Stepping into this world was like entering a Dali painting, or a real life Candyland. Such strange things that you would never expect were all around you and in such bright colors. Giant ladies shoes and jewelry, or vast wastelands of desert, gondola rides in the middle of nowhere and even a one night stand motel. Anything and everything that could be imagined by the customer would appear and always had a balance of choosing good vs. evil.
There will be one of two things that will pull people in to see this film: 1, the Imaginarium part, which delivers on it’s part and 2, Heath in his last piece. I had to admit, I was hesitant on how this would come out, knowing that Terry Gilliam worked around Heath’s death to make this film come to light. In the respect of Heath’s performance, well, he does not disappoint. Just as he was menacing in The Dark Knight, he is just as charismatic here and possibly more so.
The parts in which Depp, Law and Farrell fill in for Heath, are when he steps into the mirror to the Imaginarium. He is able to take the face of anyone he chooses. For Depp, he was a seductive man that a woman desired. Depp came in so smoothly, I was surprised it was him. He managed Heath’s moves and manerisms perfectly. Next Jude Law came in and was the face of success and also a way for him to hide from some people. Law is not usually the type to do these crazy roles and really surprised me with his poise. At times, I would look at him, and think, “there is Jude Law, dressed up like Heath, with the hair and darker skin tone, but when he smiles, I still see Jude.” That was, until I watched his body movements, and realised that he too, was portraying Heath in the way he was before he passed. Colin Farrell appears in the end and rounds out the faces of Heath. He too, looked a lot like Heath and had the manerisms, however, it was evident in this part of the film, that there were parts that were obviously meant to be played by Heath. Gilliam did his best to work around it, but in the end, I just missed Heath.
Besides the flaws, they were forced to work around, the only other complaint I have is the lack of character development toward making you despise the Tony character. There is a final scene in the end, which I had mixed feelings for and I’m not sure I was supposed to. Overall, I think most will walk out of the theater hanging their heads as they mourn the loss, once again, of a great actor who was just coming into his prime. Parnassus is like one last gathering to remember him, before we finally lay him to rest.
Enough of the sadness though, I did love this film, and will definitely be venturing out in this bitter cold weather to see it again.
I give Parnassus 4.5 “deals with the Devil” out of 5.
by Angela Davis