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|Written by Christine Seabrook|
|Tuesday, 02 February 2010 00:00|
Imagine having the ability to choose between two fantastic worlds, where making the correct decision grants you happiness and the wrong one lands you in eternal damnation. A little like judgement day before the apocalypse, but replace the religion with show business: a travelling circus to be exact. That's pretty much the premise of the new film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, Verne Troyer, and Andrew Garfield.
The story goes back and forth in time, as well as in and out of other worlds -- the imaginations of others. It focuses on the complications that Doctor Parnassus (Plummer), an ancient monk with powers of enlightenment that can extend to others' minds, faces as a result of a deal he made with Mr. Nick (Waits) to restore the immortal's youth. The doctor's end of the bargain requires him to hand over any child he has by the time the child reaches sixteen. As Doctor Parnassus tries to hide this fate from his only daughter (Cole) while still trying to find a solution, they unexpectedly recruit an unidentified, confused individual, Tony (Ledger), who tries to help make a success of their travelling act in order to help the Doctor and his family (or maybe himself).
Not only is the plot original and intriguing, the production nearly bursts at the seams with atypical creativity. For those who may or may not know (the film seemed to be getting more publicity right after Ledger's death than it is now), the late actor passed away in the midst of filming. Ledger was able to complete approximately half of the film before his death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in January 2008. The writer and director of the film, Terry Gilliam, is not one for defeat but rather ingenuity. The filmmakers decided to cast three other A-list actors to fill in the gaps left by Ledger's absence: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. All three do a wonderful job of resembling Heath's performance to some degree but nevertheless retaining their own notable flare (particularly Depp).
From an audience point of view, I was naïve in what I expected of the collaboration. I had an idea in my mind of a scene change after which Heath Ledger would never again appear in the film, but his character would appear in the form of one of the three other actors listed. My heart sank a bit when Johnny Depp first appeared on screen, and I thought for a second that I didn't take advantage of the last bit of on-screen Heath Ledger persona the world would ever see! . . . Okay, I may have one of those Puppy Love/Donny Osmond crushes on him, but that's beside the point. The filmmakers decided to incorporate his death into the movie in a way that made the story stronger. There was a slight bit of rewriting involved to explain why every time Ledger entered the Imaginarium, he appeared with a different face, but it worked brilliantly.
Terry Gilliam is no stranger to creativity or the kinds of fairy tale illustrations that form the Imaginarium itself. If his name sounds at all familiar to you, it is likely from his work as a writer, actor, animator, director, and member of the Monty Python comedy act. He began his career as an animator, during which time he slowly became acquainted with the other members of the future Monty Python cast. He was only recognized as their animator at first but became increasingly involved in other facets of their shows and movies. His film writing and directing career began to surge with the group's break-up, and he has made his name with such films as 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Brothers Grimm (also starring Ledger as well as Matt Damon).
It would be impossible to discuss the complete foundation of the film without acknowledging the presence and talent of the other starring cast members: Cole, Garfield, Plummer, Troyer, and Waits. Lily Cole brings a fresh face to the scene as Valentina (Doctor Parnassus' daughter) in her first starring role. She began her career as a model in London and was first cast in the movie St.Trinian's in 2007. Los Angeles-born Garfield is another fairly new actor. He plays Anton, a member of Doctor Parnassus's travelling troupe. Some of his other most recent film appearances include The Other Boleyn Girl and Lions for Lambs.
Christopher Plummer, on the other hand, is anything but an inexperienced actor. Though his best-known role is probably still Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 hit musical The Sound of Music, he has gone on to feature in a cornucopia of films, including Malcolm X, The Insider, Dracula 2000, A Beautiful Mind, and Up. As Doctor Parnassus, he does an effective job of illustrating the moral battle he wages against the consequences of his deal with Mr. Nick.
The final two characters in the film that build its solid foundation are portrayed by Troyer, as Doctor Parnassus's right hand man Percy, and Waits. Troyer became instantly recognizable for his role as Mini-Me in the Austin Powers triology, but he brings unexpected compassion and strength to Percy. Tom Waits is a notable individual perhaps not for his acting but as a singer, who first emerged into the limelight in 1974. He has since released several popular albums with his signature raspy voice. Playing Mr. Nick in the film accommodates his singular sound, giving an eerie presence to his gleeful take on this devilish character.
That's about all of the basics that can be divulged for the film without getting down to the nitty-gritty and spoiling it for everyone. If you're open-minded, enjoy imagination and fantasy (or if you had a thing for Heath Ledger), you will like it, as it offers a unique story that's equal parts Alice In Wonderland and classic good versus evil. You can still catch it in theatres at Rainbow St. Laurent and at the Bytowne February 17 - 20.
Tags: christopher plummer, cinema, foundation, heath ledger, terry gilliam, the imaginarium of doctor parnassus