The best films transport you away from your humdrum existence of gas bills, vexatious traffic lights and phlegmy work colleagues, if only for an hour or two. You forget the CGI, ADR and implausible dentalwork and instead inhale the director’s vision.
Sadly, nobody who sees The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will entirely lose themselves in the film; not for a few years. Maybe ten. It will forever be subtitled in your mind The one Heath Ledger was filming when he died, and not until people can forget that or not know it will they be able to properly judge the film or experience it as intended.
It’s a bonkers plot bulging with trademark Gilliam ideas, visually potty as per, but every time Heath Ledger appears – or Johnny Depp, or Jude Law, or Colin Farrell – The Bungee Of Knowledge whips you back into the real world. And you find yourself thinking “is this the last scene he filmed?” or “I bet they’re glad the sound was good enough as he wasn’t around to redub it” or “have they digitally inserted his face anywhere?” or “did they film this scene with Ledger but reshoot it with one of the others?” or “this scene is surely a tribute to him” or a thousand other thoughts.
For the next few years this film’s a bit of a dancing bear: it’s not about the quality of the dance, but about how they got the bear to dance at all.
The device Gilliam used to cope with the loss of Ledger works fine within the context of the film. The eponymous Parnassus’s titular Imaginarium is a kind of mind-projection Tardis, which allowed them to plonk in a replacement thesp or three and wave it away with a couple of lines of dialogue.
But how much the overall storyline was recarved after Ledger’s death I don’t know. Perhaps not a great deal, although I very much suspect several “INT. CARAVAN. NIGHT” and “EXT. CARAVAN. NIGHT” scenes had “INT. IMAGINARIUM BLUE SCREEN. #7777FF” scribbled over them, especially later in the film.
Regardless of the merits of the movie, or about the struggle Gilliam had to complete it, I almost wish he hadn’t. X’s last film, for various values of X, tends to hover around poking away at their legacy, being referenced ad nauseam in any piece about X. Raul Julia’s last film was Street Fighter. Bela Lugosi’s was Plan 9 from Outer Space. Imaginarium is not in the same category as those two films, not by a long way; but it doesn’t seem a fitting end. It’s a bit too long and a bit too rambly. An ellipsis rather than a full stop.
But ask me again in ten years.
Avaragado’s rating: dwarf in a basket