The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus - Blu-ray Review

'an occasionally majestic piece of genius'

In recent memory, nobody has ever attempted to validate the argument that Terry Gilliam suffers from a lack of imagination. Say what you will about recent efforts The Brothers Grimm and Tideland, criticise formative classics Twelve Monkeys and Brazil if you fancy it, but if you're really going to attempt to argue that any of those films lack vision, artistry or a touch of design genius, then you're probably going to lose.

What Gilliam's problem has always been though is engaging audiences into his fantasy worlds and it's a problem that somewhat falls over into the occasionally majestic piece of genius that is The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.

Unlike something like Twelve Monkeys, the alienation here isn't one entwined with a plot that threatens not to make sense. Parnassus, for all its pomp and incongruous placement of medieval-like stages in modern-day London, is relatively simple, focusing on a wager between the titular Doctor (Christopher Plummer) and the devil (Tom Waits), with Parnassus' daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) as the stake.

What Gilliam writes into this, especially in the second half, is a wonderful ride through Parnassus' imagination, the battle for the souls of mankind and the competing machismo affections of helpful stranger Tony (Heath Ledger) and Parnassus associate Anton (Andrew Garfield). In general it's a delightful romp, shot beautifully by Gilliam who knows exactly when to pause for a second or two longer to accentuate Cole's beauty or leave the stage to Ledger's subtle, thespian-infused, play acting. In directing terms, this is almost a tour-de-force.

But, as is typical, Gilliam attempts to pummel his audience into submission with too many elements that threaten to alienate or annoy. Anton, for no apparent reason, is almost incessantly hyperactive, affrontingly so on occasion, leaving you struggling to sympathise with Garfield's character. Valentina is underwritten and object-like and whilst Cole is undoubtedly beautiful through Gilliam's lens, she's not yet an accomplished actor and more often than not she falters, hesitates and delivers wooden dialogue. The conversations and interactions between Plummer and Waits are a joy but here too, Gilliam seems intent on selling us, and them, short, limiting us to mere half-finished chats, unforgivable in the bloated and baggy two-hour runtime.

There's an incredible amount to love in Parnassus and its beautiful worlds and deep reality/imagination interplay will almost certainly reward repeat viewings but a tighter edit coupled with a bit of refinement would have paid massive dividends. This could have been another of Gilliam's classics, instead it's another film where his incomparable imagination is mauled by his frustrating storytelling.

Look further...

'As the film goes on and we see more people enter the Imaginarium, I remained astounded visually, but the narrative behind these trips grows more and more convoluted' - John Likes Movies, 2.5/4


  1. I liked the flm a lot and gave it four stars. It really made me sad, which meand didn't leave me indifferent --> mission accomplished. I think it's a fine movie to crown Heath's career.

  2. I think it is fitting and I liked it a lot too - at about the hour mark I was completely involved in the story. But the little problems that started to creep in still irritated me. A beautiful film though.

  3. I loved the film actually, I was expecting to be baffled and it was the first time I took notice of Andrew Garfield as Anton, I found I was very empathetic towards him and cared not for Heath Ledger's character at all, though well played by him. Loved all the mad elements too.

    I gave it a good rating on my blog:

  4. Good to hear it Komal! As I say, I enjoyed it immensely but the little problems that I find occur more often that not with Gilliam prevented me from loving it. Same with Garfield: a decent performance hampered by some elements of it. Cheers for stopping by to comment.

  5. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  6. Glad you're enjoying it Anon! Hope you stay around to read some more!