The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Reunited with Charles McKeown, his co-writer from Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Terry Gilliam has created another ultimate post-mod adventure, crammed to a fault with big ideas and bigger images that mutate a grungy contemporary London into a living heaven and hell. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is nothing if not one from the heart, and not just because it’s haunted by the ghost of Heath Ledger, whose death during filming threatened to shut down the shoot until three other notable bad boys stepped in to amplify his role as the possibly feckless love interest of Valentina (Lily Cole), a model who looks like an otherworldly kitty. The titular Doctor P., played with livid zest by Christopher Plummer, is a suitably Olympian man of the theater, as misunderstood and unattended to by his audience as Gilliam feels he is for prizing imagination over mundane reality. He’s also a compulsive gambler who has traded away the future of his beloved daughter (Cole) to the devil (Tom Waits — really!) in return for immortality, then eternal youth and other existentially dubious goodies. This is potentially wonderful, if not exactly new stuff, but Gilliam and McKeown’s willful refusal of a coherent narrative and a determination to pack every idea they ever had about art into one scenario make this fiendishly gorgeous movie more exhausting than exhilarating to watch.