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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 122 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will probably be best remembered for being Heath Ledger’s final film before his untimely death, due in part to the film lacking that ‘wow’ factor, despite the much-vaunted special effects. The shared sentiment around the Leeds’ multiplex’s urinals was ‘Yeah, it was alright’, and I couldn’t agree more.

Dr Parnassus’ ‘Imaginarium’ is a travelling show where members of the audience have amazing opportunity to explore their imaginations with the guidance of Doctor Parnassus and his magical powers. The problem is that Doctor Parnassus (Plummer) is a betting man and his gambling partner happens to be Mr Nick – the devil (Waits). Initially, he wins his immortality from the evil one but then in order to seduce a beautiful woman, he exchanges his immortality for the return of his youth. This comes with the condition that their first-born will become the property of Mr Nick on its sixteenth birthday. As Doctor Parnassus’ daughter, Valentina (Cole), approaches sixteen, the devil gives him one last chance to keep her – the first to seduce five souls wins. This is all before we are introduced to Tony (Ledger, Depp, Law, Farrell) who they find hanging by his neck below a bridge and suffering from amnesia. Tony sets about helping them with the challenge but is he hiding a dark secret?

The summary of the storyline is a novel in itself, and if it wasn’t so average, then future generations might write theses deliberating the morality tales contained in the story. The visually impressive but rambling and increasingly surreal fantasy sequences mainly serve to confuse even more and the film definitely needs more than one watch to take it all in. However, these eye-popping scenes are just what you would expect from the mind of Terry Gilliam and they do enough to dazzle. It is in the real world that this movie impresses. The contrasts between the anachronistic travelling circus and the surroundings of modern Britain offers much understated humour. Veronica has an obsession with Homebase catalogues and Doctor Parnassus and company try to entertain nightclubbers in the twilight hours before inevitably being attacked. It seems that ‘Broken Britain’ is no place for magic and fantasy.

The much talked about filling of the late Heath Ledger’s shoes in the role of Tony has been done brilliantly, as Tony morphs each time he goes inside the Imaginarium. This is the smoothest way it could have been done and it fits in nicely with the film’s surrealism. It’s good to see fine actors like Depp, Farrell and, well, Depp and Farrell getting onboard and helping out Gilliam.

It's Got: Great CGI, understated humour, impressive cast

It Needs: A little more signposting for the more linear of us


Heath Ledger’s final performance will bring this reasonable movie more attention than it probably deserves.