Directed by Terry Gilliam
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Terry Gilliam always seemed to me to be the least talented of the Monty Python troupe. In case you don’t remember, he’s the one who did the animations for them. He’s also the only one who went on to direct his own features, most of which have turned out to be films in which his reach far exceeded his grasp, giving him the appearance of having lots of imagination but little talent for achieving a work of art.
His latest film is “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” now known primarily because it was the film that Heath Ledger was working on when he died in 2008. In the great tradition of the movies, a number of stars took over his part so that Gilliam could finish the film. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell all rushed in to see Gilliam’s dream come true and the film finished. Was it worth it? I have to say no, because the film ends up a hodge-podge of scenes, some of which work but most don’t, so whatever overarching artistic vision Gilliam had had is lost once again in an incoherent melange of fantastic scenes.
A troupe of actors in a wagon pulled by horses moves through London, stopping to play scenes and collect money from uninterested bystanders. The patriarch of the troupe is Christopher Plummer, widowed years ago but with a fifteen-year-old daughter. It turns out that very long ago he made a pact with the Devil (Tom Waits) to be granted eternal life in exchange for his daughter’s soul when she turned 16 (now three days away, and of course he doesn’t want to go through with it). One evening the troupe picks up a man hanged from a bridge across the Thames (Heath Ledger) who has better ideas for how to make money for the troupe. He installs a mirror, and when people go through it they find a happy landscape in which they can stay forever if they like. (Ledger had done only the transitional scenes; the ones behind the mirror are done by Depp, Law and Farrell).
There are moments as always where Gilliam makes breathtaking images, particularly on the other side of the mirror, but once again he’s stuffed the film too full of irrelevant ideas and bizarre moments that just bring the film to a full stop; by the time he gets things going again he’s just lost the point of it all.