DVD: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

(Step into the not-so-spectacular Imaginarium)

Alice’s Wonderland, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and Dr. Parnassus’ Imaginarium. One of these worlds just doesn’t belong. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is so strongly founded on creating a spectacular, imaginary universe, that when it fails to enchant and intrigue, the rest of the film tumbles too.

Set in modern day London, the film follows Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his travelling theatre troupe. As part of a deal with the devil Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), they buggy around the city, inviting onlookers to step into The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The trouble is, audience members only consist of a drunk or two, on a good night. That is, until the troupe happens upon Tony (Heath Ledger). Just as the situation becomes dire, Tony has a few ideas of his own in hopes of turning the show around.

Dark and colourful is the best way to sum this film up, both in visuals and theme. In the blue and gloomy night, the theatre unfolds, beaming warm, bright lights with floral and ancient accents decorating the stage. The cast prances around in ruffles, masks, wigs and glitter.

While the “real-world” set may be stunning, it’s the imaginary universe that fails to invite. Various wide-shots into the dream-like world present it as something to explore, but when characters enter, it becomes a mural in the background: flat and fake. Sure, it’s supposed to be a window into the imagination but the purpose of the Imaginarium is to make imagination tangible. But what is believable is Tony and his incarnations. Originally cast as the sole Tony, Ledger introduces us to a charismatic, secretive character whose true self only unfolds at the end. When Ledger died partway through filming, his role was completed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, who each played one of Tony’s incarnations. What could have spoiled the point of the film (it didn’t, the Imaginarium did), turned out to mesh seamlessly with Ledger’s role.

Perhaps the most painful part of the film is seeing Ledger deliver another captivating performance, with what should have been the launching point for an even more brilliant career ahead. Bringing quirk and charm to his role, Ledger was one of the few highlights of the film.

However, Ledger alone was unable to pull the weight of a thin storyline. Attempting to illustrate the heavy weight of chance decisions through a bet with the devil, the story drives down a very linear road and ultimately lacks depth.

With such a distractingly weak universe and barren storyline, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus doesn’t swoop us into a magical realm like it should. C

Starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Verne Troyer and Andrew Garfield. Directed by Terry Gilliam. 123 Minutes. PG-13

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