Be careful what you wish for!
Endlessly meditating in his monastery, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) meets the devil Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) and gambles with him for immortality. Having won that bet, centuries pass. When Dr. Parnassus falls in love with a woman, he makes another deal with Mr. Nick: for his mortality and youth, he will send the devil his first-born child upon his or her 16th birthday. The scheme works and Dr. Parnassus wins the woman's heart, but she dies after giving birth to their daughter Valentina (Lily Cole).
Nearly 16 years later, Dr. Parnassus is part of a traveling sideshow, which includes his daughter and fellow performers Anton (Andrew Garfield) and Percy (Verne Troyer). Through the imaginarium, a magic mirror controlled by Dr. Parnassus, audience members can enter their own imaginations, where they can make choices to follow their wildest dreams but are also at risk of being lured by Mr. Nick.
Desperate to save Valentina, now that she is nearly of age, Dr. Parnassus makes another deal with the devil: He has two days to provide Mr. Nick with five souls in exchange for his daughter. Late one night, the troupe finds Tony (Heath Ledger), a mysterious stranger who breathes new life into the attraction to help Dr. Parnassus in his quest to save his daughter. But when Tony's past catches up with him, his true identity is revealed and affects everyone around him. In the end, everyone must face the consequences of their action and own up to their choices.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus bends your mind in the most wonderful ways and still makes sense if you just let yourself go along with it. Johnny Depp describes it well: "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a uniquely ingenious, captivating creation, by turns wild, thrilling, and hilarious in all its crazed, dilapidated majesty." Welcome to the mind of Terry Gilliam and enjoy the ride!
This one's for Heath.
|With Terry Gilliam at the Los Angeles premiere of |
The Brothers Grimm, 2005 (© Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
The tragic loss brought out the best in people. Along with Johnny, mutual friends Jude Law and Colin Farrell filled in as "Tony" in the scenes Heath didn't complete. "The crucial thing with Johnny, Colin, and Jude was that they were friends of Heath, and they were the only people I called because I wanted people who knew Heath very well to make the transition easier," Terry Gilliam explains. "They knew who he was. They knew what he was like." The three actors redirected their typical fees for film work to Heath Ledger's daughter, Matilda.
The finished product is kind of a miracle considering the star died halfway through shooting, but Terry Gilliam reworked the script so that the additional cast members' involvement makes perfect sense in the story. "It's been a rather incredible gathering of friends and dedicated people who were determined that Heath Ledger's last film was not going to end up on some floor unfinished," the director says. "I am grateful to Johnny, Colin, and Jude for coming on board and to everyone else who has made it possible for us to finish the film. I am delighted that Heath's brilliant performance can be shared with the world."
I wished Johnny weren't in this one.
News of Heath Ledger's death broke while I was at work. I walked into an office where my two friends were reading from a laptop, with horrified looks on their faces. "What happened?" I asked. When they told me, I thought they were joking. But why would anyone joke about Heath Ledger dying? Nobody wants that. This was not supposed to happen. I was officially depressed, and it wasn't even lunchtime yet.
I had mixed feelings going to see The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in the theater. I love Terry Gilliam's films, but I was sad about these circumstances and watched in fear of reaching the cutoff point of Heath Ledger's last scene. I actually dreaded seeing Johnny in this movie because I figured his appearance meant we reached that end point. "A lot of people, when watching the film, assume that we're not going to see Heath again, but he always keeps coming back," Terry Gilliam says. "It wasn't just a matter of Heath stops, and Johnny, Colin, and Jude take over. It's the fact that he keeps reappearing, and he's never out of the film; that's why I think the film works as well as it does." It's true, so fear not! Heath Ledger stays with us all the way through with no real noticeable gaps in the scenes or story. With a big sigh of relief, I was so pleased with the result that I left the theater smiling and I think Heath Ledger was too.
Terry Gilliam's in his element!
Having grown up watching Terry Gilliam and his artwork on "Monty Python's Flying Circus," I always look forward to a Terry Gilliam film. He cowrote this one with Charles McKeown, whom he's collaborated with on Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchaussen. The latter is one of my favorites and now this one is too.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is so creative, I can hardly describe it. Whenever characters step through Dr. Parnassus's magic mirror into the imaginarium, they enter their own imaginations (and those of whomever else may be in the imaginarium with them). "Every time you go through the mirror, there's going to be something different," Terry Gilliam says. "I wanted to take advantage of the fact that we have this mirror that can provide us a surprise each time we go through so that one is never bored." If more than one person goes through the mirror at the same time, you will find competing imaginations. Whichever is most dominant takes over, causing the different worlds to literally split apart or expand in free form. "These kinds of worlds are me just letting my imagination run. I pretend I'm whoever the character is in there, and I just go with it," Terry Gilliam says. "Or, I have an idea that already exists that I'm trying to force onto the film, and I make sure the character becomes something that serves the ideas that I already wanted to get out of my system and get up on the screen." All sorts of imaginations are explored, including those of an alcoholic, a child, a criminal, and the main characters--Valentina, Anton, Tony, and even Dr. Parnassus himself.
Where does Johnny come in?
Three sequences in the imaginarium remained to be filmed after Heath Ledger's death. To adapt to the new terrible situation, Terry Gilliam established that, in the imaginarium, Tony's appearance could change to whoever is imagining him. Johnny's sequence is first for a reason. The director explains, "I felt that, if this idea of different people playing Tony was going to work, Johnny would be the best one to drag us across, and that's exactly what happened. So many people, when they watch the movie, actually think it's Heath for a moment, which was really a sign that we've pulled off something that worked." That is exactly what happened when I watched this movie for the first time in the theater!
This cast shines bright!
The rest of the wonderful cast assembled The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus need to be highlighted too:
- Tom Waits is the devil! Isn't that an example of genius casting? Johnny aside, doesn't that alone make you want to see this movie? No? Okay, there are more!
- Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus is amazing, as expected. "It seemed to me one needed a man of his kind of weight and gravitas and experience to give dignity to the shabby little show we were running," Terry Gilliam says. "I think it's Christopher's dignity and his ability to make even what might be a charlatan in the case of Parnassus into somebody that you believe does have extraordinary powers."
- Lily Cole, who plays Dr. Parnassus's daughter Valentina, is a successful fashion model. When I saw her photographs in magazines, I always thought she had a great face for movies. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is her first starring role, and I'm pretty sure she's safe to keep going!
- Andrew Garfield is in this movie! Yeah, Spider-Man. I didn't realize it until I revisited this film for Johnny Kitties. During filming, he learned and embraced the joy of improvising by watching Heath Ledger and caught on quickly. In his first comedic role here, Andrew Garfield is really fun to watch. I might have to see all his movies now.
- Verne Troyer, I admit, is someone I can't look at without thinking of Austin Powers' "Mini-Me" and laughing. I got over it with this movie, in which he plays a serious role quite admirably.
- Jude Law takes over as Tony after Johnny's turn in the imaginarium. Ironically, before Heath Ledger was chosen, Jude Law was considered for the role of Tony. As always, he is fantastic. An avid admirer of Terry Gilliam's films, participating in this one was obviously important for other reasons: "To help Terry finish his film was an honor paid to a man I adore," he says. "I had a great time on the job. Though we were all there in remembrance, Heath's heart pushed us with great lightness to the finish."
- Colin Farrell is perfectly suave and slimy as Tony in the final imaginarium sequence. He wrote about the experience on his blog, noting the sense of community everyone felt in Heath Ledger's honor. "Three of us had been asked to complete a task that had been set in motion by a man we greatly liked and respected as both a person and an artist. Being part of this film was never about filling Heath's shoes as much as seeing them across the finish line," he writes. "How I wish he had brought the film to its completion himself. Of course, the whole crew felt this way. And, the cast that we joined felt it too. It was this spirit of grieving the loss of Heath that Johnny and Jude and I joined. But there was also a sense of dogged insistence: insistence that Heath's last piece of work should not be kept in the shadow of the light of day. A community of people - caterers and actors, electricians and makeup artists - had been brought together in a recognized sense of love and obligation, for and to, one of cinema's finest actors and most generous of men. It will be the sense of love amidst the sadness that I will remember most. Such a gift and an honor, from Heath, to be part of the trail that he left behind."
The big finish with Colin Farrell as Tony, mentioned earlier, could test some viewers. The finale, a battle in the imaginarium among four people with strong imaginations (Tony, Valentina, Anton, Dr. Parnassus), is a trip, so be ready for it! "The whole last sequence is about whose imagination is winning at any particular moment. Unless people understand that, what is going on, the whole thing probably becomes very confusing," Terry Gilliam explains. "To me, it's an absolute dream sequence - this whole finale - because one thing is flowing into the next, making very clear leaps. It's how dreams form and reform and transmute things, but unless you're willing to let go, and go into a kind of dream state, you're going to have trouble through this sequence. You've got to let it just take you where it goes 'cause each thing makes sense in its own way, but you're connecting a lot of things that may or may not make sense depending on who it is." All clear? Trust me, you'll understand when you see it! Just go with it.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus doesn't follow the typical logical flow or structure of a film. "It flows at a different level. It depends on whose mind you're in," Terry Gilliam explains. "Can you shift from character to character and understand why each world is what it is? I find children can do this easily, but the older people get, the more rigid they become, the more terrified of this, what seems to be chaos. They want things explained, and they even like things explained in advance or [to be] given a road map of where we're going. And, I think that is exactly what the imaginarium is not about. Those that go in there, and take this ride and hold on, have a wonderful time; so we're trying to encourage people to let go, even adults."
Rent The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and give it a try (or two, three, or more). It's worth the trip!
In the imaginarium, the Kitties can do the impossible!
Johnny's time in the imaginarium explores the mind of a wealthy middle-aged woman played by Maggie Steed. "Johnny loved working with Maggie," Terry Gilliam says. "The two of them just clicked, and he said he wanted to have her in every film he does. It was just a great combination." Here, the woman (The Mother Kitty) imagines Tony waltzing with her on lily pads among a few of her favorite things - brilliant jewels, magnificent shoes, and sweet perfumes. But Tony's own imagination conjures up the young and beautiful Valentina (Lily), who lures his attention away from his dance partner.
Johnny is just slightly mad in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
Image credits: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus images © Infinity Pictures Entertainment and Poo Poo Productions; Illustration © Melissa Connolly