The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - ***
Starring: Heath Ledger, Lily Cole, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell
Review: This movie was definitely out there, there is a lot to take in and some of it will definitely leave you scratching your head going "huh?" However, as the name would suggest the movie is not without imagination.
The movie centers around the 1000 year old Doctor Parnassus and his traveling imaginarium. The great spectacle of this show is a mirror that, once Parnassus is in a monk like trance, has mystical properties. Someone can pass through the mirror and enter a world in which their imagination takes over and they ultimately find themselves having to make a choice in which their soul is at stake. The choice is between going the way of Doctor Parnassus (the high road) or the way of Mr. Nick (the low road). Mr. Nick, of course, is the devil and has been battling Parnassus for souls in a series of bets for the last 1000 years or so. One of those bets involved his daughter, that she would be given to Mr. Nick on her 16th birthday.
Mr. Nick has come to collect, but as he loves to make bets, he decides to wager Parnassus' daughter again. Mr. Nick and Dr. Parnassus agree that the first one to 5 souls wins his daughter. During their travels, the group encounters a man hanging from the side of a bridge, seemingly dead. This man is the mysterious Tony who turns out not to be dead at all, and may actually be a good addition to the group as he is able to sell more tickets to their show and get more people into the imaginarium. I will stop with the plot here as there are a few twists in it that shouldn't be given away here.
The movie is very well shot with good special effects and some good performances. Heath Ledger playing the mysterious Tony does a great job and only serves to anger me more that his life was cut short right as he was coming into his own as an actor. He will still go down as one of the greatest actors of my generation and we are only left to wonder how great his career could have been. As publicized, Ledger died during the filming of this movie and Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrel were tapped to pick up the role. This actually fits as a decent plot device where Tony changes form when he goes through the mirror to fit the imagination of the person who travels through with him. Nobody's role quite encompasses Ledgers but it is an interesting device nonetheless.
The rest of the crew is cast perfectly Lily Cole is absolutely gorgeous and plays the part of the innocently tempting soon to be 16 year old Valentina very well. She is the centerpiece of the movie, holds her own next to great actors such as Ledger and Christopher Plummer. She did not seem out of place with all the talent around her. Christopher Plummer give a great performance of an immortal who is conflicted and tired of life and the constant battle with Mr. Nick. Verne Troyer has limited acting abilities but he plays the "Jiminy Cricket" moral voice role very well. Finally, the best performance of the movie belongs Tom Waits. Waits plays Mr. Nick and I can't imagine anyone playing a personified version of the devil any better than how he played it in this movie. Waits, with his constant cigarette and gravely voice, takes hold of each scene he is in as a being who knows he is eternal and the only fun he can glean from his existence is making constant bets. This serves as the plot vehicle of the movie but also serves as the motivation because Mr. Nick never has anything real riding on the bets and only wants to play so he can lose, just so he has motivation to play again to see if he can win.
The movie will no doubt divide people on those who think it's good, those who think it's bad, and those who think "what the flip just happened?" This is understandable, but I enjoyed the movie for the sum of it's parts more than it's whole. The story was pretty loose but each scene had a purpose and was well done. This movie is not for everyone, but if you can appreciate the smaller parts of movies then you will enjoy this one.