Like Lily Cole’s Face, ‘Dr Panassus’ Shouldn’t Work, But It Does.

Here’s a novel idea for a review about ‘The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus’: I’m gonna try to steer clear from the big ‘selling point’ (ie Heath Ledger’s in it). Firstly because I’m getting incredibly sick of ‘celebrity death as entertainment’ and secondly because if you concentrate on his character too much you may miss a helluva lot of what’s going on in Terry Gilliam’s best, yet still bat-shit crazy, film for yonks. And that, I feel, would really piss off the person in question.

Was that vague enough? God no. In fact by opening a film review with a paragraph about how I’m not going to mention ‘something’, I’ve mentioned the hell out of it instead. Ah well, nevermind. On we go.


It’s pretty tricky to explain the plot of ‘The Imaginarium’ (or ‘Dr. Panassus’ I’m not quite sure which lazy abbreviation I’m going for so keep up) but I’d argue that the most important parts of the movie are quite simply a re-telling of Faust. Old man (a great Christopher Plummer) sells something to devil (an even greater Tom Waits). Guy wants to go back on deal. Devil isn’t convinced.

But like Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ being similar to ‘1984’ (rumour is that Terry never read ‘1984’ but just heard snippets from a friend and liked the general gist) ‘Parnassus’ is only similar to Faust, leaving much room for Gilliam’s imagination to be set loose.

And boy is it ever set loose. Once inside the Dr’s Imaginarium the director is free to give birth to some of the most surreal animation he’s ever attempted. From rivers turning into serpents, to a ‘blacked up’ ‘little person’, to a giant Christopher Plummer ‘Bobbie’ complete with singing and dancing recruitment ‘filth’, everything, including the kitchen sink, is thrown in.

If this doesn’t make a lot of sense to read (that’s probably because my writing style sucks) it also doesn’t make a lot of sense to watch. And herein lies the glory of Gilliam. You might not get all of it (or any of it) but you can’t knock the attempt to create something new, and that attempt is backed up by every single person in the cast and crew.

The estuary English of newcomers Cole and Garfield should put you off, the Heath replacements (Law, Depp and Farrell) shouldn’t work and the fact that it sometimes feels like 6 or 7 movies rolled into one should all point to a big, fat, ugly failure. But as the wonderful title of this piece states, it shouldn’t work, but it does. (Really, she is stunning).

No one person will ever achieve immortality through their work (here I go again, not mentioning that thing I wouldn’t mention) but Gilliam’s strongest hand is knowing that stories can last forever. If nothing else, ‘Dr Parnassus’ is a big reminder of just how bloody lovely and great stories are. And for that reason alone, I think it’s a movie well worth checking out.