What to rent: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a very old man living in a horse-drawn caravan with his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), his assistant Percy (Verne Troyer), and Anton (Andrew Garfield), an additional member of his troupe of mummers. The four travel the streets of London performing short plays in order to eke out a meager living. However, we learn that there is much more to these performances than meets the eye. The show provides the audience an opportunity to enter the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus by stepping through a mirror. Once they step through, they enter the world of their own imaginations – be it for good or bad.

Director Terry Gilliam, one of the founders of the Monty Python comedy team, uses this film to explore the nature of good and evil while addressing the interconnectedness and dependency on each other the two forces share. In the world of Dr. Parnassus, good needs evil, and vice versa. Parnassus, Gilliam’s embodiment of good, is immortal because of a deal made with the Devil (Tom Waits) many thousands of years ago. However, as part of this arrangement, he has promised to give up his first born at the age of sixteen. Valentina is unaware of this bargain as her birthday quickly approaches. In the meantime, Parnassus and the Devil continue to make additional bets, reframing the original wager, as they have for millennia.  Valentina only wishes to be a part of a “normal” family and wants love and romance, specifically from the newest member of the crew, the mysterious Tony (Heath Ledger), whom the troupe has rescued from an attempt at murder. While love is stuck in the middle, the power struggle continues between good and evil as Parnassus and the Devil continue to strike deal after deal.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a spell-binding story sure to make you think. This film is not for mere entertainment (though it is extremely entertaining). There is always more being said than what meets the eye. Gilliam (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland) has taken us away again with his wild imagination and provocative set design. His story telling through film is always surreal and fantastical. Fine acting performances abound, especially by Waits and Plummer, as well as cameo appearances by Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell.

If you didn’t catch this movie in theaters last January, it is time that you do see it on video. It is a film well worth watching several times over.


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