The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a beautiful looking film with a really intriguing story, but unfortunately doesn’t answer all of the questions I wish it had. Looks like I am going to just have to use my imagination to fill in the blanks (See what I did there? “Imagination”? That’s right, I went there…)
A long time ago in a mountain range far, far away, a supernaturally inclined man named Parnassus was living a life devoted to his faith when a man name Mr. Nick came a’knockin’. This visit from this devil-esque man set into motion a long lasting relationship for the following hundreds of years based on both men’s inability to say no to competition, gambling, and deal making, eventually leading to a deal in which Parnassus’s entry into the bargain is his own daughter. When she turns 16 she is to be given over to Mr. Nick, and as this movie just so happens to have it, her 16th birthday is right around the corner. But before Parnassus is forced to make good on his side of the arrangement, Mr. Nick makes one final deal that she will go to whoever is able to collect the most souls before time runs out.
The movie takes place in the modern world, but it really has a timeless look to it; especially when moving out of the gloomy streets of the real world and into the world behind the mirror. Those who find themselves in this magical world of the imagination are shown the magnificent and unexplainable before being given a choice. Now what this choice actually is is slightly debatable. The outcome of this decision determines who will win the soul, but seeing as this is not a battle between the devil and God, it is hardly a choice of right and wrong. Sometimes it seems to be a choice between the life that individual is already leading vs. what will save them from this path (which I have the commentary track to thank for putting one such example into these words), but other times it is less distinct. But no matter how unclear what is going on happens to be in this world, it sure does look pretty. The look of the imaginarium is quite similar to the story world in The Fall, if this story was taking place in a Salvador Dalí painting. On top of the great computer graphics, the practical design elements of the sets and costumes were just as amazing and fitting in this heightened world.
My confusion did not stop with the choices posed to those that enter the world, but with other bits of information given to the audience. For one thing, it is stated that only one person is supposed to go through the mirror at a time because different minds working at once would make things get out of hand, but more often than not more and more people were in there at once and nothing really seemed to be greatly complicated by this, which seemed like an opportunity lost. Also, it is never really clear just how much certain individuals really know what is going on in this traveling sideshow that fronts for the imaginarium. For one thing, it isn’t really clear what exactly his daughter thinks is going on behind the mirror, especially because she has no idea about the wager. I guess this all hinges on what the imaginarium is normally used for when Parnassus isn’t fighting to keep his daughter.
Though I am left with a lot of questions, the answers aren’t needed to enjoy the film. Plus, it helps that the acting is great all around. For starters, it is really nice to see that Verne Troyer is a really talented actor in more serious roles considering most people associate him with Mini-Me. In addition to Troyer, Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield do great jobs as Parnassus’ daughter and helper respectively though they don’t have a lot of known roles under their belts (PS – I highly recommend that everyone go rent Garfield’s Boy A). Both Christopher Plummer as Parnassus and Tom Waits as Mr. Nick give strong performances on their own, but I will say that Waits outshines Plummer in their screen time together as they play off of each other in their interestingly dependent relationship. Wait’s performance as the devil (if he is actually the devil) is refreshing because it veers from the most evil of all that is evil representation of the main man downstairs, and it is hilarious to watch him try to pick the hopeless Parnassus up so that their game can keep going and going. Finally, Heath Ledger plays the character of Tony, a man with a questionable past and a truckload of charisma and charm to manipulate those around him even when his motives begin to show the real man below. And finally, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell do not disappoint in their respective mirror world sections in which they build off of Ledger’s “real world” Tony and show the effect that the appeal of this world has on him.
Though I am stuck with a lot of questions about this world, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is just as enjoyable without having divulged all the answers about how this world works. In addition to the intriguing story, the acting and design elements are spectacular, making this a film that should not be missed.
Final Grade: B+