The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus (2009)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Premise: An offbeat theater troupe travels the streets of England, featuring a mystic (Christopher Plummer) who offers people a chance to experience their dreams. What participants don’t realize is that the temptations inside the “imaginarium” are real and that wrong choices will cost them their soul. When the troupe comes across a nearly dead man (Heath Ledger) and brings him into their company, he uses his talents of persuasion to increase their sales but his own secrets threaten the entire group.

What Works: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus is a clever retelling of the Faust tale, in which a man faces the consequences of a pact with the devil. This is a familiar premise but Doctor Parnasus does it well through a tight struggle between the devil and damned. The conflict is also helped in part by terrific performances by Tom Waits as the devil and Christopher Plummer as the regretful mystic. Heath Ledger died during the production of the film but this is an adequate send off for the actor as he gives one of his best and funniest performances. In order to complete the film, actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell fill in for Ledger and their contributions end up giving the film a clever twist in the dream sequences that actually strengthens the film’s themes about identity and integrity. Terry Gilliam’s films have always been visually and narratively ambitious and Doctor Parnasus is no exception, but this film uses its visuals with a clearer sense of purpose and a little bit more restraint that Gilliam has shown on other projects.

What Doesn’t: The coherence of the story does get a little sloppy in the end, as Terry Gilliam’s films are prone to do.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus is very good and a creative take of the Faust tale. The film will likely be enjoyed by fans of Inception or Moulin Rouge!

Episode: #298 (July 25, 2010)