Friday, January 15, 2010

MidAisle Critic: A Return to Form- The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)

As I sit in complete silence I am taken back to the space I was occupying a mere 20 minutes prior.
A theatre seat in an air conditioned room.
But was it?
Could it have all been an illusion of the state that I found myself to be in? A mere voyeur of the world beyond the celluloid? Isn't that all the viewer is entitled to be, or is there perhaps something grander to the scope of the imagination?

Question is: "what power can the imagination possibly hold for the one who wields it"?
This question creates the central premise of Terry Gilliams' latest film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The film, most noted for being the last film starring/showcasing the departed Heath Ledger, is a masterful work steaming to the brim with existential imagination. This reviewer found much to be said about a film that took such an awful tragedy (the death of Ledger) and turned it into something far more poignant message than what otherwise could have occurred. What seems like a strange, often jarring description (a man changes faces when faced with different realities) becomes the essence of the man- we get the full picture of a much more exposed character arc! Why yes! How could this be? A film that actually allows for characters to be taken at any moment. A film that questions the value of choice, and the will. This is certainly something new and exciting.

Some may not fair well in Gilliams narrative, and thus many reviewers have glanced over the film; but I challenge the readers of this review to look upon a film filled with imagination and true philosophical question with an open mind. This is not a traditional story, and thus should not be viewed as such. Characters have both good and bad qualities to them, and displaying them in visual personifications allows the film itself to portray the human spirit (in a sense) in fantastically imaginative ways. The depth that Gilliam places upon the shoulders of the good Doctor, and even in the fractured Tony adds a curious display of realism to the films fantastic foray.

I found that the use of story was quite intriguing: as the universe, if faced with the absolution of narrative, would itself cease to exist. In fact, it becomes the primary focus of the good Doctor to use his abilities to bring the stories back to a world that has forgotten how to tell them. This is very much in line with Gilliams philosophy, in that, in every film he returns to the intricate elements that make us human. The use of narrative allows us to speak meaning into existence, even if it (in itself) is not enough to continue the world itself; but only to prolong its existence. As newcomer Andrew Garfield states, "he doesn't want to control the world, he wants the world to control itself." I couldn't help but feel sorry for Plummers' Parnassus, because he himself acted as a mute prophet to a world unhearing. His call for the imagination of the people had been rejected, and thus he found his life to be a series of random bets to make it more interesting. Only after he discovers the truth, at the end of the film, does he realize the impact that others have upon the world.

The essence of life is that you have a choice. The essence of longevity is that you have choice. The essence of imagination is that you have a choice. But in the end, all choices come to results... whether intended or stumbled upon. Very clearly do we see that through the evolution of Tony, that choice ultimately gives us a way out; but sometimes it can have a price. The realities of ones life, when faced with great peril, have in itself the potential for meaning; or in a much more mystical allusiveness as Tony's 1st Transformation (played by Johnny Depp) proclaims, "nothing is permanent, not even death." 

The film portrays a universe of wonder, not bound by the limitations of science or even reality- and that is its greatest strength. Its amazing to see what Gilliam can do with an actual budget!
The acting is superb, especially by Heath Ledger and his "personalities" Depp, Law, and Farrell; and the direction/writing is %100 true to form Gilliam. I especially loved Tom Waits sinister Mr. Nick a.k.a. The Devil, and his relationship to Plummers' Doctor P. In fact every actor was utilized to their particular strength in this film, and the chemistry between the actors "on stage" clearly shows their commitment to  film justice on Ledger's behalf. In fact, I loved the tribute that Gilliam places at the beginning of the credits signifying "This has been a performance of Heath Ledger and all of his friends, Thank You."

Catch it while you can; because a film like this is a rare sight these days, perhaps too rare in the opinion of this critic. I am greatly looking forward to Gilliam's next film The Man who Killed Don Quixote, that is if it ever begins production again.