Tuesday, February 9, 2010

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” movie review by Keith Lee


As an artist, I can understand the desire and need to create your autobiography in a single body of work. Terry Gilliam’s new work is full of inner insight and career triumphs. But I left not knowing the man anymore than I already did and didn’t. You have to be a die hard fan to possibly catch everything that goes on in his latest illusion. I think of Terry Gilliam as more of a weaver than a film maker. His story telling is meshed with all types of references that you need to take a class on how to analyze the events you have just witnessed. But does he achieve inner perspective?

As far as a movie about story telling, the story isn’t all there and it is not the point of the film at all. Story telling is a distraction and this becomes a series of riddles for the characters as well as for the viewers to have to answer. It involves a holy man that meets the Devil who has a wager that is hard for a betting man to refuse. It is the ultimate card game of “Collecting Souls”. The two spend centuries battling wits while having the deepest admiration for each other. Why else would the game be played in the first place? In order to find those missing direction in life, Dr. Parnassus takes his tiny makeshift portable carnival down back alleys and untraveled streets in hopes of finding souls willing to participate in a world of imagination and one's own personal desires. All dreams of trial, jury, and execution are realized through the Doctor’s mind of magic. Mirror included of course.

Terry, like Tim Burton, is the master of illusion both figuratively and artistically. This alone is worth the price of admission. With a cast including Heath Ledger, Johnny Deep, Jude Law, and Colin Farell tag teaming on the lead character there is enough eye candy for the ladies as well as the ultimate “How to Build the Perfect Man” for the imagination. Men have something to gain in the art of charisma not just from the actors already listed, but more from Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits. These two giants hold this fairy tale balloon ride in place so that it doesn’t get full of itself and fly away. Both actors are amazing and the camaraderie between the two is the ultimate chess game. This movie would have been just as much of a pleasure to watch without the special effects and if it had been a film about a series of conversations between the two characters.

Lily Cole is not your typical big screen charm which makes her that much more appealing as the only leading lady. With her round doll face, huge child-like eyes, and long slender frame she looks more like a live action anime character come to life. I would like to see this narrative continue on as her character carries on where her dumbfounded alcoholic father left off.

Hidden in all the woven layers are the true talents of the supporting actors Andrew Garfield and Verne Troyer, who add an element of dimension to what some may consider to be a pretentious and convoluted story about right or wrong.

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is clearly an art film and aimed more at cult classic than main stream efforts. That is what I love about Gilliam’s work. It is that private joke between an insane few and myself. I appreciate the walk on the edge of surrealism and look forward to the next chapter. Dali would be proud. This is clearly not a film for everyone but rather the select few that can find beauty in dirt, love in deception, and faith in a pair of dice.

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