s#63/4: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Who needs hallucinogens when you have this film?

This was quite a strange film. I saw it with two friends, and between the three of us we figured out MOST of the plot. Wikipedia filled in the rest (and kudos to whoever wrote that. . . presumably someone who asked the writers a whole lot of detailed questions).

For the first third of the film I was enthralled. For the second third I was becoming impatient with having too many mysteries going on. In the last third, I was lost – but still enjoying the stunning visuals, costumes and sets.

Doctor Parnassus, his best friend Percy, his daughter Valentina, and Nice Young Man Anton travel together in a wonderfully shabby and elaborate caravan/stage, tempting passers-by to venture into the world of the imagination through the mirror. The tiny down side is that all who venture inside are given choices. The right choice leads to joyful illumination (that’s not the down side). But if you make the wrong choice, you get blown up (seriously). Fundamentally, if you are imaginative you are good and if you make ordinary choices, you belong to the devil (take that, public service). The devil is played by Tom Waits (and usually called “Mr Nick). It’s worth knowing that he doesn’t lie, and is faithful to his wagers. (That helps with understanding the plot.)

The basic plot is that Doctor Parnassus has a gambling problem – he and the devil have made numerous wagers in his thousands of years of life, and because of a previous deal the devil gets to keep Valentina (his daughter) from the day she turns sixteen. This devil also has a gambling problem, however, and bets Doctor Parnassus that audience members travelling through the mirror will belong to him (rather than the doctor). First to five souls wins Valentina (who of course doesn’t know any of this). Which means the show needs to get audience members. . . something they seriously lack.

The plot is complicated by the addiction of Heath Ledger’s character, Tony, who may or may not be evil (but is a GREAT hustler), and (like Anton) falls for Valentina (who, having saved his life, falls for him too).

That’s all you need to know, and it’s plenty more than I knew.

The film is M (I think), and I do want to see it again (if only for the pleasure of understanding roughly what’s happening this time). If it wasn’t for “Avatar”, this film would definitely have won best art direction/visuals. There were a couple of moments of very poor acting, but otherwise the acting was great.

Bizarrely, none of the film’s weirdness was due to Heath Ledger’s sudden death. It was honestly written that way from the start (including the obsession with death). The methods used to deal with his death actually (arguably) add to the film. The actors who stand in for him are all friends of his.

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