Movie Review: The Imaginarium of an Actor Lost

Giving any kind of description of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus just does the film an injustice. It is the type of film that you should see on your own and allow yourself to come to your own conclusion. On the surface, this film is about a traveling show that can not only entertain it’s audience but also give them a look into their own being. These lucky patrons can thank the magical mind of Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) for this little bit of enlightenment. Through special powers, Parnassus can send them to a world of imagination where the choices they make will affect their lives forever. Parnassus is a man with many demons, his life being the hardest one to deal with. A long time ago Parnassus made a wager with the Devil (Tom Waits) for the chance at immortality, a wager that the Doctor won and a gift that seems to be more of a burden.  When we come across Parnassus he is old and beaten down by his life’s choices, choices that he will have to live with forever. Most regrettably was the choice to give up the soul of his first born on their 16th birthday for a chance to be young again, but, the Devil being the betting man he offers the Doctor a deal if he can save the lives of five souls before his daughter Valentina’s (Lily Cole) 16th birthday then his daughter would be free. With the terms selected we have the main story of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but like I said, what makes this film is it’s so much more than it’s main story arch.

Not only is The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus an in-depth look into the current state of our own psyches, it is also and education in the art of acting. During the filming of The Imaginarium, the film was hit with a mighty blow with the death of Heath Ledger. Ledger had finished half of the film and before his death he would only be required to film the sequences in the film that took place in the dream world. In a brave decision, Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) decided to continue filming, replacing Ledger with his very eager to help friends Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), Jude Law (Closer), and Colin Farrell (In Bruges) so when Ledger was in the dream world we would have these fantastic actors. The thing that makes all of this work is the way that each of the actors took to the role and rather than playing Ledger’s character Tony in the way that each of them would, they took to the role as if they were playing Ledger playing Tony. This not only reminded me of how much I will miss Ledger but also how great each of these actors are. Even though all of his replacements were outstanding, I was left with the feeling that I could have seen Tony though out the whole film as Ledger intended.

Most surprising was the ability of Jude Law, in my mind I knew he was a good actor but I never really thought of him even being in the same ball park as Ledger, Depp or Farrell, but how I was wrong. Law’s depiction of Ledger is exact and he never drops a beat. It was strange to look into Law’s face but see Ledger, but Law’s performance left you with nothing else. After this film I hold Law in a much higher regard. Even though Law was the most surprising, Depp and Farrell also showed great range and left me with even more respect for their work.

The acting in Parnassus can be compared to none, but I could tell that the story may have suffered to pull of this monumental task and fill in the gaps that Ledger had left behind. I think if we could have a peek at the original film we might see a much different movie because gaps are apparent when we get to the film’s final sequence, because of this we are left with a film that still at the heart is a good film, but may just have to settle with good when it could have been great. There is nothing else wrong with the film it is beautiful and deep and left me wanting to rewind the reel and just watch it again.

Even though the film was right up my alley reminding me of Labrynth, The Fall, and Mirror Mask, rather than bask in the glory of how good I thought this film was when the credits rolled I was left with a sadness. A sadness of knowing that was the last time I would see an actor that I have enjoyed since his roll in 10 Things I Hate About You and how it was so obvious that after The Dark Knight he would grow even more as an actor and continue to surprise me. Like this film though, I was brought to the realization that the art of film is a magic thing and in his final roll Ledger had been brought back to life and would there after everytime I saw one of his films. So, if you can find this film go see it, enter the Imaginarium as it will remind you why we love movies.

I give The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus 4 “great actors” out of 5

by Ryan Davis

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

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