Saturday, December 26, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Released December 25, 2009

Fantasy is a tough genre. The wilder the created world is, the easier it becomes to get lost within it, and for the story to get swallowed whole by an altogether over-imaginative mind. There’s no question that Monty Python member and director Terry Gilliam can dream up magnificent and fantastical realities, ranging from wacky (“Brazil”) to dreary (“Twelve Monkeys”). His latest film is one bizarre head trip, which has no interest in being grounded in reality and therefore abandons all sense at the door and proceeds along a slippery and just plain strange path that isn’t heading anywhere logical. It’s decently interesting at the start, but gets less absorbing as it becomes more bewildering.

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is significant as the final film of Heath Ledger. While his Oscar-winning vehicle “The Dark Knight” was released after he died, he had already filmed a good portion of his scenes for this film. It’s a fine performance that’s fun and entertaining, but it doesn’t do justice to his complex turns in “The Dark Knight” and “Brokeback Mountain.” To replace the scenes in which he appears that hadn’t yet been filmed, three actors jumped in to fill the role: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. The most interesting thing, which is truly defining in characterizing this film, is that it actually makes sense for three actors to take over his role, since they portray his various alter egos when he steps through a magical mirror. To be able to say that about a movie is quite an intriguing characteristic, but it’s also impressive that the part still works even after Ledger’s untimely passing.

The four performers playing the same part all bring a certain common energy to the part, but the character gets lost in his own complexity. That’s true of the movie itself, which inhabits an altogether uninhibited world, and very quickly gets trapped within it without much hope of getting out. Doctor Parnassus and his circus of assistants put on a show where they give participants the opportunity to enter a portal where their dreams can come true. But even they don’t have control of it, and while that’s in a sense an exciting thing, and certainly allows for reality-bending visual effects, it’s easy to lose track of it and forget about the plot. There’s a century-spanning deal-with-the-devil subplot at work here also, but the film is altogether too confusing and perplexing to deal with all it tries to effectively.

Christopher Plummer goes deep into the ancient and despair-ridden character of Doctor Parnassus, and it’s not a performance nearly as evocative or impressive as his other role as Leo Tolstoy in this year’s “The Last Station.” The real standouts from the cast are Lily Cole (“Rage”) and Andrew Garfield as the Doctor’s daughter and the company’s jester. Overall, however, their captivating performances get lost in the overwhelming swell of magic and fantasy that envelops the film and swallows it whole, making it hard to find a way into its complex and murky mythology.


No comments: