The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
More often than not when a great actor passes away their last works tend to be clunkers. The most famous example of this is Raul Julia who died just before Street Fighter was released. Marlon Brando had the misfortune to have his two final releases be the awful The Island of Dr. Moreau and the forgettable, The Score. Fortunately, through Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, one recently deceased actor was lucky enough to avoid this trend.
After making a bet with the devil, Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) wins the gift of immortality. Several years later Mr. Nick and Dr. Parnassus make another bet that would ultimately save the life of Parnassus’ one true love. Unfortunately for Dr. Parnassus this bet comes at a grave price as he must give up his first born child, Valentina (Lily Cole), to Mr. Nick upon her 16th birthday. Now on the eve of Valentina’s sweet sixteen, Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick decide to make one more bet that may either save Valentina or damn her forever. The bet is simple, Dr. Parnassus must convert five souls through his mystical "imaginarium" travelling show before Mr. Nick converts five souls. Dr. Parnassus knows that the devil always has a trick up his sleeve; which is why Parnassus is intrigued when his troupe of performers randomly comes across Tony (Health Ledger). Is Tony a gift from above? Or is Dr. Parnassus about to take his riskiest bet yet?
It has been well documented that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus features Heath Ledger‘s final performance. It is also well known that Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law were asked to fill in for Health in certain scenes. What may come as a shock is how seamlessly Gilliam injects the three actors into the story. Since most of the non-imaginarium scenes were shot prior to Health’s death, Farrell and crew are only needed for the fantasy sequences. Once you see the film, and understand the limitless possibilities of the imaginarium, the change in actors will make perfect sense.
Director Terry Gilliam does a good job at keeping the film grounded in reality despite all of its fantastical moments. This film is far better than his last two pictures, The Brothers Grimm and Tideland, though not as strong as some of his earlier works. It is apparent that Gilliam really took time to ensure that the acting matched the level of the visuals. The two performances that deserver the most praise are the ones given by Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits. Sure Health is charming as ever, but it is Plummer and Wait who really make this film a treat. Waits in particular does a great job as the devil, you can see how easily a man like Dr. Parnassus could be swayed by his deceitful charm.
The one major flaw with the film is the imaginarium scenes with Farrell in the third act. I found the whole sequence from the children’s benefit gala up to the stairs chase scenes just went on far too long. The film really needed tighter editing towards the end. Still, despite the somber event that ultimately surrounded the filming, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is an enjoyable ride that is a fitting final chapter to Health Ledger’s canon of work.