Netflixing: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

in movies •  8 months ago

I have been told that Terry Gilliam is hard to work with.

And there is no denying that his films are not easy to make. He is known for putting actors in difficult---even dangerous---situations, all in the service of the story.

And while no one has ever died on any of his sets, or during the actual action of filming, there is one...relatively well known example of an actor meeting his end during one of Mr. Gilliam's production cycles. You might just have heard about it.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was Heath Ledger's last film. His death, which happened when only one third of the film was shot, nearly sank the movie entirely. That it was still finished and released in any form was a cinematic miracle.

But the tragedy forced the filmmakers to make a number of sweeping changes. Mr. Ledger's death, though it was not the fault of this movie, undeniably leaves its mark in the film, changing the way it was paced, shot, and written.

This is an elephant in the room, and I can't proceed without addressing it first. There are many reasons to wish that Heath Ledger were still with us. One of those reasons is that his last film suffers for his absence, and we are left to wonder how much more cohesive the work would have been.

All in all, I am glad that this movie exists, and believe that, ancillary tragedy aside, it was a good move for Mr. Ledger to make. I think he does a good job acting in this film. I think the character is nuanced and interesting. And I thank Mr. Ledger for giving it to us.

I should also thank Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, each of whom stands in for the role played by Heath Ledger at various points in the film. That such big name actors would volunteer to stand in, motivated not by profit but by their friendship for a fallen friend, is admirable.

But, as a critic, I still have to examine the material with some attempt at objectivity, and the objective truth is that Imaginarium is a deeply flawed film, and will likely be remembered more for its incidental connection to Mr. Ledger's death than for any degree of merit within the film itself.

Don't Fight the Weirdness

There is such a thing as success, and there is such a thing as prestige. And the two don't necessarily go hand in hand, particularly if you are a movie director.

One way for a director to gain prestige is to have a definitive style. You have your Wes Andersons, your Tim Burtons, and, yes, your Terry Gilliams.

I like Mr. Gilliam's style, in no small part because, like myself, he is a student of iconography and appreciates its power. He strives for it in ways that few modern directors dare to, and he has consistently worked at it ever since his early days as an animator.

However, in his pursuit of new icons, it cannot be denied that he errs on the side of the extreme. It's a risk that, perhaps, is unavoidable for anyone who wishes to create new icons with any regularity.

I am reminded of a quote:

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.


And Terry Gilliam certainly fits that bill. Which means that a lot of his stuff is just too weird to describe. His elevated mind may sit on a different cloud than David Lynch's, but they're definitely in the same heaven.

And with that in mind I will say that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a weird movie. Less weird, perhaps, than any other Terry Gilliam film, but what enjoyment you can get out of it requires that you be prepared for the surrealism of the fantasy. Some people can't do that, and those people won't enjoy what's on offer. So be sure you know what kind of person you are before you even try. Otherwise, you may find yourself caught off guard by one of the director's trademark system shocks.

Try looking at this picture without laughing. You can't.

The Story

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a traveling show hosted from a horse-drawn wagon that carts its way through the streets of modern-day London. The acts feature costumes, dramatic recitations, and stage magic.

But there's a catch: the show's central act, in which audience members enter the show's magic mirror, is not an illusion. The mirror is a real gateway into the mind of Dr. Parnassus, who builds fantastic worlds out of the imaginations of his visitors and uses those worlds to test their character. While the good doctor attempts to coax each subject into accepting self-transformation and enlightenment, they are likewise challenged by the villainous Mr. Nick, who has equal control over the mirror world. Any visitor who succumbs to the temptations of comfort and ignorance is killed (and presumably sent to hell).

Because, as it turns out, Mr. Nick is actually the devil himself, and Dr. Parnassus is actually an ancient monk who was duped into obtaining immortality from him. After centuries of continual contests between the two men, Dr. Parnassus now owes the devil the soul of his own daughter, which he must relinquish on her sixteenth birthday---a mere three days out from the start of the film.

But in a fantastic twist of fate, the doctor's theater troupe stumbles upon a man who appears to have been hanged to death, but has managed to keep himself alive by stuffing a brass pipe down his throat.

This is Anthony---a shady figure with a mysterious past who may hold the key to freeing Dr. Parnassus from his Faustian debt. Or he may hold the key to the old man's downfall.

The Good and the Bad

This is a beautiful film to look at.

And since looking at movies is the primary way in which we experience them, it can be said that Imaginarium is worth watching for its visual appeal alone.

It must also be said that slogging through the bulk of the film is the price you pay for the climactic scene at the end, where Valentina dances with Mr. Nick and fights very hard to damn herself while the devil tries to stop her. The way this one scene was shot almost justifies the entire rest of the movie. In fact, any scene in which Mr. Nick appears was a highlight of the story, and for all his menace, he had remarkably little screen time.

The other climax, between Dr. Parnassus and Anthony, was clever enough to get a smile from me, as well.

But the build up is just too much, too quickly. The story would have benefited from a gradual ramping of the tension, with the stakes getting ever higher as the tone got darker.

Instead, most of the action is completely undercut. The doctor and the devil battle to see who can be the first to steal five souls, but each team wins four souls all at once, meaning that the only competition that ever really mattered was the last one.

Worse still is Tony's character arc, which, likely due to the death of the actor, is incredibly broken and stilted. The story makes it clear he is a bad man, but also suggests that the seeds of redemption may be within him. So when, in the final act, he goes completely to the dark side without being offered one final chance for change, left me feeling that a scene was missing (which may have been the case).

And Dr. Parnassus himself is a baffling collection of contradictions. He's supposedly some kind of enlightened figure who stands in opposition to the devil, offering people roads out of alcoholism, materialism, and other addictions, yet he himself is a drunk and a compulsive gambler. His hypocrisy makes it hard to like him or cheer for whatever victory he is trying to win.

My Judgment

Terry Gilliam's movies are an acquired taste to begin with. Add to that problem the large and numerous holes in Imaginarium's appeal, and you have something that can't quite get off the ground.

I want to give this film the benefit of the doubt, considering the massive production issue it somehow managed to survive. And yet there's no ignoring the conclusion that this movie is less than magical.

It's worth one watch, perhaps. And you can get that watch on Netflix. Still, I wouldn't put it on anyone's movie bucket list.

Previous entries in the Netflixing series:

Past Years

TV Shows

  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 5
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  • The Joel McHale Show, with Joel McHale
  • John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 4
  • Trollhunters, Season 3
  • Aggretsuko
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 4
  • Trollhunters
  • Round Planet
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 3
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 2
  • Kakegurui
  • Planet Earth II
  • Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 2
  • Revolting Rhymes
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 1
  • The Polka King
  • Little Witch Academia
  • Movies

  • Coco
  • The Iron Giant
  • Jaws
  • Phantom Boy
  • The Boss Baby
  • Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
  • Strictly Ballroom
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    Definitely this is the 1st time I heard about this movie! I will give it a try, hope I could find a torrent file! Thank you for reviewing this movie!


    Legends be like him...real actor

    The story sounds interesting i would like to watch it. Thanks for write this great review

    This is great article. very interesting Netflixing movie and good I think.
    have a great day

    Hello @talanhorne,

    Extraordinary good writing of an incredible / professional review of this netflix movie.


    Never heard about it before. Thank you for always bringing up the new content. I will look for it. ☺

    Excellent review of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus under the name of Netflix series. Very interesting movie. All the day I waiting for your post. I love your post and your writing skills are a professional writer. Thanks for sharing with us

    Well buddy will sure look into the movie !

    That's a awesome movies... very great writing... I appreciate your blog... #upvote Sir..

    an interesting plot & probably a worthy try to watch it. impressive review & well done @talanhorne

    reteemed & upvoted

    I want to give this film the benefit of the doubt, considering the massive production issue it somehow managed to survive. And yet there's no ignoring the conclusion that this movie is less than magical.

    A brilliant way to you used to build your conclusion of the movie. Nice post & outstanding work.

    but has managed to keep himself alive by stuffing a brass pipe down his throat.

    Wow, that sounds a bit too dramatic to me. I wouldn’t want to be any of the visitors either since I would risk to be killed.
    The movie has to be exceptionally great to be on my bucket list 😆. With that said, great review @talanhorne!

    good movie comrade.
    always success @talanhorne

    Useful and effective tips and good writing, thanks.@talanhorne
    Upvote Resteem

    Wow nice movies and great post.thanks for sharing
    Thank you @talanhorne
    Upvote Resteem

    A good movie review with interesting writing. Excellent post & thank you

    I think that this is amazing from the trailer.
    Haven't watched this but yeah looks awesome.

    Thanks for sharing your review on this one will put it on the list and will check out later

    Now what I see are a group of experienced actors gamely trying to keep their heads while all about are losing theirs. We just have to plunge in. Ledger himself, who makes Tony relatively grounded in the "real" world, must have been prepared to do the same and would have lent the story more continuity. Still, this is an Imaginarium indeed.


    Thanks @talanhorne sir for sharing this post.

    @talanhorne, Excellent review of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus under the name of Netflix series. That would be very interesting to mine.

    @talanhorne - Sir you made a nice conclusion of the movie - 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus'... I'll watch it Sir... You leads us to watch good movies & honest reviews always provides Sir...


    such a wonderful write & your good ideas . the writing have been fulfilled.
    This is great article and good advice.
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    Mr. Ledger's act perfectly there. Fantastic story tale wrote @talanhorne. Your writing develop my passion to watch it. Thanks.

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    Always great Netflix review....really like it. It’s inspiration to me... thanks for sharing this beautiful review

    The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is one I cant wait to see. Some of his movies are among my favorites, Brazil, 12 monkeys, fear and loathing, fisher king. I didnt like The Zero Theorem or Tideland. Time Bandits was good too, and his Monty Python. I like his work in general. Imaginarium was good while tripping, um so I heard

    Terry Gilliam is a perfect character there in this movie. You gave another perfect summery introduction. It's excellent.

    That's excellent movie. I like your summery introduction.
    That's great work @talanhorne.

    that is professional article & Excellent writing . so great experience.
    Thanks @talanhorne
    100% like and resteem

    Congratulations @talanhorne
    Now you are in the MinnowsPower Loyalty Member List...!!!

    Exceptional review & interesting story you summarized...!!!

    100% Upvoted by @MinnowsPower

    Excellent movie review as usual. Well reviewed & explained. Nice post with excellent writing.

    Amazing post &Excellent writing. @talanhorne thank you.
    For your post propagation.

    Very interesting story.
    It is very good to see some innovation. In fact, entertainment is one of the medium of Netflexing .
    In this we can see many quality movies.
    I like share your post @talanhorne

    yes that was too difficult.........

    This is an elephant in the room, and I can't proceed without addressing it first.

    I like that point you made!

    But the tragedy forced the filmmakers to make a number of sweeping changes. Mr. Ledger's death,...

    😞 it’s happening all over. It seems they all are happy,

    but in most cases it’s the opposite.

    I hope you are well my friend!

    Great post.
    Your writting really good.
    Thanks for sharing.


    Its a great review on that movie.

    Its really a great quote

    After reading this article, I can sense that the story is really fantastic and I am going to watch it and it is definitely a must in my bucket list.

    I think that is very meaningful story that is Express with this movie.. and excellent soundtrack..ledger's act frankly says superb.. the real character of him I feel like this.