“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 London , 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 London 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 behold.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas