Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 25th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

In Your Dreams

film_imagineVisuals, scruffy charm, trump confusion in 'Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus'

Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus ought to be better than it is. Some scenes waffle and teeter all over themselves before coming to the point, and the narrative wanders off down a few too many dark passages, squandering its momentum. Gilliam coaxes splendid, witty playing out of his gifted cast in some scenes, but in other moments, it sounds as if they were directed to play from an outline of the story instead of a script.

But as a celebration of human imagination, and a passionate defense of the power of storytelling, Dr. Parnassus keeps drawing us into its cheerfully amok orbit. Now that technology has caught up with Gilliam's own fervid imagination, he's able to construct ecstatic onscreen dreamscapes alongside the tawdry fun-house charm of the film's "realistic" sequences. Some lovely moments are also provided by Heath Ledger in his last film role, Tom Waits, as a purring, deadpan Devil, and a sly cameo by Johnny Depp.

The film's title refers to a traveling carnival sideshow whose tattered painted scrims and antique vaudeville-style effects seem ridiculously passé in the run-down modern London alleyways and parking lots where the troupe sets up shop. Small wonder, since proprietor Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a 1,000-year-old mystic who once made an unfortunate pact with the Devil for immortality. And now that his delectable daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) is about to turn 16, it's time to give the Devil his due.

The troupe is always broke, and smitten young assistant, Anton (Andrew Garfield) is eager to run off with Valentina (who fantasizes over illicit homestyle magazines the way teenage boys drool over "Playboy"). But it's no sham that they're peddling; Dr. P's "Imaginarium" is a magic-mirror portal that reconnects weary, multitasking patrons with the power of their own dreams. When the troupe rescues Tony (Ledger), who they find hanging by a noose under a bridge, he turns out to be a natural charmer who helps them modernize (and sensationalize) their show for a more lucrative venue in a ritzy shopping mall. Soon, "Mr. Nick " (Waits, in all his wry, gravelly insouciance) resurfaces with a new wager: if the Imaginarium can claim five new souls before the Devil can, he'll let Dr. P keep his daughter.

It's laudable to suggest a big imagination is the opposite of evil, but the choice between dreams and sin makes for a slippery plot device; the two are hardly mutually exclusive. But even if we're never sure what people are or are not committing their souls to inside the Imaginarium, the visionary images can be delightful—a sea of giant glimmering jellyfish, an Anubis-headed gondola on a glassy river that flips over into its own dark reflection when the dream turns carnal, a descent from a mountain on steps of clouds.

True, it never feels as if Valentina is in much danger, nor does Dr. P attain the rueful, Lear-like gravitas Gilliam obviously intends (especially in the overly drawn-out finale). But the film's scruffy pleasures are in the details. The silky finesse with which Ledger's Tony takes to the carny's life is delicious, if bittersweet. And if the film is haunted by the tragedy that forced Gilliam to find a replacement for Ledger in three key scenes, Gilliam's canny use of three other actors to represent different facets of Tony's personality makes great narrative sense—Depp, at his most beguiling, Jude Law, when the character becomes more complicated, and Colin Farrell when his dark side surfaces.

Waits is a joy throughout. And a flashback to a remote mountaintop monastery of floating, chanting mystics who "tell the eternal story … that sustains the universe" is a winsome piece of poesy straight out of Gilliam's own id. (Even when the Devil stops their mouths, he's told, "Someone somewhere is telling a film_imaginarium_of_doctor_parnassusdifferent story … you can't stop stories from being told.") This is a filmmaker who's never let anything get in the way of the stories he wants to tell. As messy, imperfect, and frustrating as the results can sometimes be, Dr. Gilliam's Imaginarium is still a rich and wondrous place to visit.


With Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole and Tom Waits. Written by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown. Directed by Terry Gilliam. A Sony Classics release. Rated PG-13. 122 minutes. Watch movie trailer >>>

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location