The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 8, 2015

Have you ever wondered? Why the grime all the time, Gilliam? There are echoes of the good old days here (Time Bandits, Munchausen, a bit of Brazil), with some whimsy that’s real and not just mannered, some bona fide imaginative turns that seem on the brink of being visionary. Or if Gilliam is not quite a visionary—does it even mean anything, in the end?—he can always elicit a “wow” or two. The Imaginarium… is also quite like John Boorman’s Where the Heart Is, another brave and ultimately incoherent film. Am I just mentioning that because Christopher Plummer is in both of them? Well, it’s a valid link. There’s a Lear-like majesty to what Plummer does here. Or maybe it’s just handsome old men who know how to act. The whole is obscure, but things can still shine out.

That’s even more relevant considering Heath Ledger’s well-publicized demise, which occurred before he was able to finish this film. How much of its mess is due to that untimely death? Not a lot, maybe, since the three Tony idea works pretty well, and even means something. Mirrors having two faces and all, in addition to Gilliam’s usual looking glass conceits. Tom Waits is really something.

On recent reflection it has seemed to me that Terry Gilliam is an insistently, maddeningly, and finally annoyingly limited talent. This film doesn’t challenge that view, but it leaves me softened as I express it.