Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

We have loved every Terry Gilliam film we have seen, beginning with
"Time Bandits." I think that "Brazil," and "The Adventures of Baron
Munchausen" are masterpieces, and was very disappointed that his "Don
Quixote" project died. Therefore, we were very interested to see what
he would make of "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," even before the
buzz generated by the death of Heath Ledger and the remarkable response
to it.

On that issue, suffice to say that the substitution of Johnny Depp, Jude
Law and Colin Farrell works as though it was meant to be that way all
the time, and the fact that Tony's (Ledger, et al.) appearance changes
with each foray into the dream world emphasizes its psychic mutability.

Christopher Plummer plays Parnassus, supposedly a thousand-year old
Tibetan monk, who, having won eternal life (though not youth) from the
Devil, has become entangled in a millennium-long series of wagers with
"Mr. Nick," usually taking the form of a bet on which of them can win a
certain number of souls for Good or Evil first. In aid of this,
Parnassus operates a travelling show (with a certain homage to "The
Circus of Dr. Lao,") out of a wonderfully complex but ramshackle
horse-drawn stage wagon. That Parnassus is using essentially an
Eighteenth-century pitch and Nineteenth-century equipment is indicative
of his world-weariness and dearth of his own imagination: he says at one
point that he is "only the facilitator" of the fantasies that take place
when someone steps through his magic mirror. His own appearances in the
dream world are rigid and inhuman, and the path to salvation he presents
is daunting and barren.

His antagonist, "Mr. Nick," (Tom Waits) appears as a louche bounder,
with bowler hat, white kid gloves, cigarette holder, and pencil-mark
mustache. He's so attached to his long-running game with Parnassus that
he'll even reason his way out of having won a round in order to keep the
Doctor in the game. Partly, this is because any operator of a gambling
game knows you need to let the suckers win occasionally so they have
hope, and this allows Mr. Nick to continue savoring Parnassus' misery
and despair. Partly, Parnassus' dream world excursions allow him an
early harvest of souls who might otherwise have eventually have been
saved. And partly, there's a certain co-dependency in their
relationship, since Parnassus is one of the few beings who knows Nick
for what he is, that he can stop in and have a little chat with.

Very good supporting performances by Lily Cole as Parnassus' daughter,
the stake in the current wager; and Andrew Garfield as the show's front
man who loves Valentina. (Garfield even resembles a young Michael Palin,
and "Anton" is a classic Palin role.)
Verne Troyer as "Percy" is Parnassus' familiar, and the (usually
ignored) voice of reason. I'm sure it's intentionally ambiguous as to
whether this is the same person seen at the monastery 1000 years ago, or
the latest in a series of "midgets."

It's a very fascinating and complex story with some surprising twists,
and I'm sure Jungians would have a field day with the imagery of the
various dream environments as interpreted through Gilliam's style. It
would be worth going back to just to look at those again.
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