January 9, 2010

An Ode to imagination or can you put a price on your dreams?

An ode to imagination. An ode to your soul. To your own fantasies.....The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

Its kind of hard to even begin to explain this film. Its filled with poignancy and melancholy. Heath Ledger's legacy enmeshed within.

A yearning for days past when our minds were allowed to wander free. When we weren't strangled within the tenacles of passive visual garbage fodder ie bad movies that serve everything up with pointy pointy over-explainatory fare, that leaves nothing to the imagination.

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is set in present day London. A home-spun traveling circus show. Complete with a midget named Percy. Something from centuries long gone. The juxtaposition of then and now. The gritty reality of now, the realism shown in the squalor of some sort of post-war rubble, with people rolling out of bars drunk and aggressive.

The imaginarium showcases the rather fragile Dr. Parnassus, who's intricate&mysterious past is covered by smudged white pancake make-up, giving him a lingering sadness. His daughter, Valentina, as a contrast, is a visual riotous feast. A restless soul, longing for what she doesn't have, namely a picket fence type rooted home life. Assistants Anton, who has lost his heart to the fair and ripe for the plucking Valentina, and Percy, complete the cast and crew of this theatrical lot of time bandits.

Pulled by horses, the stage/home/trailer coach lurches over cobblestone streets, after yet another performance of payment with broken glass and tomatoes. They chance upon the shadow of a hangman. Or rather, a man hanging from a bridge. Enter Tony. With strange symbols on his forehead. He is rescued by the combined efforts of Anton and Valentina. He lives because he swallowed a metal pipe, which apparently kept his neck from breaking. Interesting detail to have that around. Which leads to the assumption, he expects lynching at any given moment. Tony peps the show up, enticing the ultimate target audience with reverse psychology ("we don't want your money")......lonely sad wives draped with Prada bags, shopping in concrete glass shopping malls. Eternally searching for fulfillment. For adventure. Easy targets for the suave enticer Tony. A crook. A scam artist. Is anything he says sincere? Not really. He is as smooth and brittle as glass. And always the charmer.

The film contains a bit of Dr. Faustus, a bit of Hansel and Gretel, or some other fairy tale. Snow White? Eternal life. Eternal life will not bring you eternal happiness. How can it? Our world is cold and callous. Dr. Parnassus discovers this in all its brutality. And his various wagers with Mr. Nick, who follows him tenaciously through time, will hold him to his word. He is coming to collect his rewards. Always the player and somehow compassionate, Mr. Nick gives Dr. Parnassus another chance.

The entire cast was magical, waving their wands around us. Spun. Loved Andrew Garfield as Anton, Verne Troyer (remember Mini Me?) as Percy, Lily Cole as Valentina, the quintessential Sleeping Beauty. Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus and Tom Waits as the Devil, Mr. Nick. Heath Ledger, of course, as the con artist charmeur, Tony.

Heath Ledger's death is an intrinsic element. Its a part of the film as if it were written into the script. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell portray Heath Ledger's character beyond the magic mirror. They seemed truly bewildered in their roles. Not necessarily detrimental. But noticeable nevertheless.

I loved it. With all its haphazardness, its uncomfortableness. Its lingering sadness. The morality. No definitive linear. The slope of magic did dip in the second half. Certainly flawed, still, I was enthralled to the end. Heartlessness and warmth at the same time.

The wealth and dexterity of each character and actor respectively portraying the roles was enough. Somehow the actors, the characters formed this tangible bond despite the zigzag train of a plot. That was the adhesion that held it together.

The definition of Parnassus in Greek mythology is the home of poetry, music and also that of the winged horse, Pegasus. There were plenty of other metaphors, allegories, and intertextuality, some I didn't recognize. Good enough reason for a re-visit.

Could I describe this to someone in one or two sentences? Because I hate saying: oh, it was great. It was awesome. I want to say some more substantial. It was a dream? Yes and no. But still too vague. The caustic whimsy of Monty Python held its hand over this film. Yet the seriousness, the depth, the sadness, the melancholy of Gilliam's singular style was dominant.

Magical, colorful, seminal.

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