As you may have guessed from the title “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is an odd movie. Directed by Terry Gilliam, it is the strange tale of a mysterious immortal who complicates his life by making deals with the devil. Complicating Gilliam’s life during production was the unexpected death of his star Heath Ledger but, the show, as they say, must go on and here we are after the untimely January 2008 passing of the young actor, with a completed film. How did Gilliam finish the movie? A new credit, “A Film from Heath Ledger and Friends” tells the tale. Three of Ledger’s buddies, Johnny Depp (seen dancing on a leaf!), Colin Farrell and Jude Law, stepped in to play “through the looking glass” versions of the late actor.
Set in present day London the film begins with a look at Doctor Parnassus’s (Christopher Plummer) bizarre traveling show which offers people a chance to step through Dr.P’s magical mirror into an alternate reality. He’s selling imagination, but his gift of mind’s eye manipulation came with a heavy price. Eons before he made a trade with the devil (Tom Waits)—remarkable power in exchange for his first born daughter on her sixteenth birthday. That anniversary is now days away but with the help of a mysterious stranger named Tony (played by Ledger, Depp Law and Farrell) and the magic mirror Dr. P just may be able to save her.
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is more a piece of surrealist art than a traditional movie. Imagine watching a Salvador Dali painting come to life and you’ll get the idea. Gilliam, who co-wrote the script as well as directed, has allowed his imagination to run riot. While the story meanders to and fro he fills the screen with unforgettable images; Old Nick dangling Dr. P from the end of a branch or a multi-eyed hot air balloon shaped like a man’s head or the ensemble of skirt wearing, dancing Bobbies. Visually it’ll make your eyeballs do the Watusi.
The story, however, may leave some a bit baffled, but so what if it warps the brain a bit? The film oozes Gilliam’s trademarked anarchic spirit—he might be the only filmmaker who could replace his leading man with three other actors and actually pull it off—and is the most original movie of the year.