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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

We wanted to do something different on New Year's Eve, something special, something we almost never, ever do.

So we went to see a movie in a movie theatre.

And, because I'm oddly helpless before Terry Gilliam and both of us are fools for fables and forlorn hopes (and because we didn't want to wait on line for blockbusters every review has fingered for eyecandy with stupid, stupid scripts) we went to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

It's about stories, their power and their danger.  It's about the drawbacks of immortality, deals with the devil, dreaming, sacrifice, symbols, and salvation.  If you take apart the plot, bit by bit, it probably doesn't make a lot of logical sense.  But it always makes a kind of emotional sense, even if it is filtered through Gilliam's strongly flavored view of the universe.  The good Doctor's poor daughter, for instance, doesn't get to act much outside of her traditional fairy-tale heroine role (although the exquisite Lily Cole gives her as much agency as the script will allow).  And the one woman's imagination we're allowed to enter pretty much revolves around shoes and jewelry and being young and beautiful forever and attractive to the likes of Johnny Depp.  Whaddyawant?  It's a Terry Gilliam movie.  If you go to a Terry Gilliam movie in search of sensitive and nuanced portrayals of women, you're doomed to disappointment.  I actually think this one is better, in that regard, than Time Banditswhich (except for the ending, which I can't bear to watch) is another Gilliam movie I love in despite of myself.  It's also (marginally) less judgmental and morally smug than Time Bandits (for a Gilliamish value of "moral"), although his theology is, at best, idiosyncratic.

So why do I love it?  Well, it's beautiful.  The world behind Doctor Parnassus' mirror is like the illustrations from the best kind of picture book, clearly artificial and yet somehow realer than the world we see with our waking eyes--soft, bright, significant.  The "real world" segments are more surreal--super-gritty, super-edgy, super-dirty and cunningly lighted to accentuate their coldness and harshness.  I loved the costumes, too.  And the characters were colorful and interesting and irritating and memorable.

I do know (because I don't actually live under a rock as far as popular culture goes, although you may be excused for thinking so) Gilliam had to deal with the death of Heath Ledger part-way through the filming.  It's hard to imagine the movie, though, without quadruple Tonies, each slightly different face representing a facet of the complex, mendacious, charming trickster original we first meet dangling under a bridge.  Depp (although I continue to love him unreservedly) was the weakest of them:  Jack Sparrow as psychopomp.  But Jude Law and Colin Farrell were both wonderful, especially Farrel, who does conflicted evil a fair treat.  In the end, though, it's Ledger's performance that gives the whole thing coherence and depth, and (along with Christopher Plummer, as the eponymous Doctor Parnassus) makes this a movie something I fully intend to buy when it comes out in DVD.



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
My favorite Gilliam movie is Munchhausen. Now I'm looking forward to seeing this one!
Jan. 2nd, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC)
I like Munchhausen, too. Now I'm going to have to rent it and see it again.
Jan. 2nd, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
Right there with you on all counts, though you didn't mention my favorite actor in the movie, Tom Waits as the bowler-hatted, junkyard-growling Mr. Nick.....
Jan. 2nd, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
He was wonderful indeed. Re-reading, I think I must have left him out because he unsettled me so much that I just kind of, um, elided him.
Jan. 2nd, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
I'm with kradical--never having seen Tom Waits at all, but I love his music, I'd love to know how he did.

Other than that, a fine review! Thank you.
Jan. 2nd, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
He was charmingly terrifying, a nilhilistic Prince of Darkness who just wanted to be sure that nobody had any illusions to hang onto. Except that he might, possibly, play fair, just this once.
Jan. 2nd, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
Now I can't wait to see this! Thank you for the review.
Jan. 2nd, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
That sounds good: I don't think it's opened her year. I will look out for it. Jude Law isn't one of my favourites, but he impressed me considerably as Watson in Sherlock Holmes. Possibly he's hit his stride?
Jan. 3rd, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
Opens here on Friday
Friday...Friday...Can't wait. I already have my day planned. I'm glad the four-Tonies decision worked out.

xoxo and HNY!
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
Ha! Know where you got your icon from. I used to blog as Butterfly Minds and had that old Vogue illustration up along with some others. Ellen contacted me and said it looked shockingly like you. I've just set up a new blog after being rather neglectful with the old one, and thought I'd add you as well as Ellen this time. And lo and behold, the image I have at the top of my new blog is the same as your new icon! Anyway, I think I once commented on your blog a couple of years or so ago about a story of yours I absolutely loved - set in Elizabethan England and featuring a cross dressing fairy. I love gender ambigious stories, and thought you handled the language like a native of that period. I think the version I saw was reprinted in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Otherwise, I'm adding you. Hope that's okay. If not, let me know and I'll unadd you as it were. Best wishes for the New Year.
Jan. 4th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
Welcome! I'm flattered you friended me. And am delighted to be able to thank you for the icon I love so much. I'm also glad you liked "The Fairy Cony-Catcher," and am particularly pleased you liked the language. It is the legacy of many years in graduate school, studying Tudor prose and Non-Shakespearean Renaissance Drama (and everything else in that period that stood still long enough). I'd never do a whole book in it, but it was fun for a couple of stories.

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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