Morality tales have never been as gloriously fantastical as Terry Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.
The imaginarium in the title refers to a travelling theatre troupe led by Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), a 1000 year old immortal who has the power to guide the imagination of those who wish to enter his magical realm.
Parnassus gained his powers in a wager with the Devil (Tom Waits), who is assured Parnassus’ daughter (Lily Cole) on her 16th birthday.
With that day fast approaching, Old Scratch comes a knocking for the right to his prize, Waits playing the role with aplomb, utilizing his gravelly voice coupled with a jerky swagger, luring his victims into temptation by exploiting their darkest desires.
When a suicidal stranger, Tony (Heath Ledger) is taken in by the troupe, Parnassus views his arrival as a good sign, and quickly strikes up a new deal with the Devil to save his daughters soul, with Tony’s help.
With what is Ledger’s last performance, the Oscar winning thespian proves his mettle as an exuberant actor whose best days were still ahead of him, exhibiting an eccentric charm and sexual energy that is reminiscent of an in prime Johnny Depp.
Depp, of course, was one of three actors –the others being Jude Law and Colin Farrell – who stepped in to help complete the film after Ledger’s untimely death, and for the most part the metamorphosis of Ledger’s Tony into different incarnations during key moments in the film works, with Law being the lone sticking point in an otherwise well acted movie.
Under the guise and pen of Gilliam, Imaginarium.... proves that he is a filmmaker whose imagination and persistence knows no bounds. But what is also evident is a deep moral and spiritual, perhaps even theological, tone. Now that may seem a weird thing to say in reference to a member of the anti-religious Monty Python company, but it is something felt in every frame of this film.
Some fans of Ledger, however, will feel a melancholy in knowing that this talented actor is no longer with us. That the film ends with “A film from Heath Ledger and friends” is only fitting.