I just watched the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. I am happy to report that I think I found a movie that can knock Sucker Punch off my list of The Top Ten Best Mind Fuck Films.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was released in 2009 and directed by Terry Gilliam. I think its two main claims to faim are the fact that it was the last movie Heath Leger was ever in, and I think it is one of the most imaginative movies ever made. Suck it James Cameron.
In this modern version of the Faustus myth, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) to become immortal, with the proviso that should he ever have a child, at the age of 16, he or she would become the devil’s property. Well, of course, Parnassus eventually has a daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) and as her 16th birthday comes up, he dreads when the devil comes collecting. However, the devil offers Parnassus a wager. If Parnassus can collect five souls, he will save Valentina’s life. Parnassus fears it’s an impossible feat, but then he and his traveling sideshow save the life of a strange man named Tony (Heath Leger). When he is roused, he jumps at the chance to repay the kindness by helping Parnassus acquire the five souls.
This is one of those movies that have so much depth that you kind of want to watch it again so you can make sure you understood it all. If a movie can do that, make you feel like there’s more to it that you have to find, it’s incredible. That is why I love movies, because they can have that power.
I would like to mention that this movie came across a very tough challenge. During filming Heath Leger died. There have been precedent for such a situation. Plan 9 From Outer Space (yes, the movie considered by some to be the worst ever made) cast Bella Lugosi to play a vampire, and he died three days in. What they did was cast someone new and simply told the actor to hold his cape in front of his face the entire movie. Which I would like to believe started that image of a vampire.
But anyway, the makers of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus decided to cast not just one, but three more actors to finish playing Tony: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. In the context of the film, Tony changes to one of these actors when he ventures into the imagination of Dr. Parnassus. The movie doesn’t explain explicitly why Tony morphs in Parnassus’s imagination, but I think it was hinted that he did because he has a fractured personality. It is incredible that the movie makers could take such a tough set back and work it into the plot.
And of course, I have to mention the artwork in this movie. It was stunning. I literally felt as if I was wandering in someone’s imagination. I have never seen a movie before that had such fun, fanciful imagery. I kept wanting to see more, and was upset when the movie ended.
Despite all these good things, I think over all, the movie jut isn’t completely in synch. It’s like the pieces of the story were forced together in a kind of off-kilter way. Which can be expected considering Leger’s death. I’m sure lot’s of unpredictable changes had to be made because of that, making the story kind of go out of wack. So I can understand that.
I give The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus an 8 for it’s creativity. If you like innovative films and interesting art, this movie is right up your alley.