“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”
There’s some real genius attached to this film.
A blowsy old rickety wagon shambles down the streets of downtown
, looking for all the world like some refugee from a 19th-century
carnival. Here’s the carnival
barker, dressed (badly) to resemble Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods,
loudly advertising to anyone within earshot this amazing “Imaginarium of
Doctor Parnassus,” where all someone has to do is dare to go behind the
curtain of the little wooden stage, and be transported to another realm.
Right. And the few curious
folks who actually pay any attention are either incredulous, skeptical,
reluctant, or entirely prepared to wantonly ridicule.
Ah, but what if it’s all true? What
if that old guy on the stage has made some weird pact with the devil, and
really can transport people, in his own imagination, according to the nature
of their own? What if this motley
collection of misfits, smelling of desperation and reeking of alcohol, might,
by some unaccountable reasoning, actually not be misrepresenting themselves?
What if it’s not some shabby sham, and there’s real danger, as well
as the real possibility of a fantastic personal journey?
Yes, it’s all sort of absurdist, tongue in cheek, roguish British
humor. But it all works, at least
at some empirical level, though this movie fits no neat classification.
Christopher Plummer is just right as Doctor Parnassus, part guru, part
dissolute lush, but always of formidable stature.
Offsetting his powerful persona is the ephemeral presence of his lovely
daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), a plasticine porter with looking-glass eyes,
and the sharp, sarcastic wit of his “mini-me,” Percy (Verne Troyer).
Anton (Andrew Garfield) is the callow youth ostensibly displaced by the
eloquent drifter, Tony (Heath Ledger).
Now there was a certain inconvenient scheduling problem in the making
of this film. After the
squalor scenes, and before filming the blue-screened, creative, Imaginarium in
Vancouver, Heath Ledger dies. At
first, they were going to just scrap the whole project, but then, as a sort of
tribute and a kind of grim determination that “the show must go on,” we
get by with a little help from his friends:
specifically, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, and Colin Farrell, who take turns
being Heath Ledger, Transformed. And
so the Imaginarium is taking on even more morphing of visual expectation.
And we haven’t had such a deliciously theatrical devil since “Damn
Yankees” in Mr. Nick (Tom Waits). Yes,
the struggle is still, somehow, for souls to capture, and in the spirit of C.S.
Lewis in “The Screwtape Letters,” Satan’s best trick is convincing
so-called modern people that he doesn’t exist.
To observe that this is a creative piece of filmmaking would be like
saying that the D-Day invasion was difficult.
This work, like “Avatar,” is establishing a different genre
altogether. However, there’s
probably not enough real romance, or enough discernible literalism, to capture
the public imagination. It’s so
fanciful that it risks dissolving in its own idiom.
But for the adventurous moviegoer, “The Imaginarium” is a sight to
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace