Friday, 4 June 2010

Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) is a robust, entertaining film that serves to show Heath Ledger's superiority over alternative male leads. When he is on the set, Ledger, who plays Tony the conman, galvanises the viewer's attention and provides the kind of strong, compelling acting only great actors can provide.

Sadly, Ledger died during filming. The film credits end with "From Heath Ledger and friends". In his intro, Gilliam the director registers the form of shock Ledger's death produced on the cast, which includes stand-in performers of the calibre of Jude Law and Johnny Depp. None of them put a dent in Ledger's performance, which is outstanding.

While Ledger was clearly in a league of his own, the film still entertains in his absence. Gilliam's fantastical imagination combines a hard-boiled, street-smart realism that depends on strong performances with superb special effects that do nothing to detract from the importance of the individual actor and his or her craft. It is a wise, funny and gripping film that derives most of its force from ancient forms, such as the morality play. Tom Waits as the devil is a fitting foil to Christopher Plummer as the idealistic but flawed Doctor Parnassus. The two duel it out in a battle where the stakes are high. The future happiness of Valentina (Lily Cole) hangs on the outcome of the contest.

Gilliam's tough stance toward good and evil is refreshingly clear-cut in the play of the film's drama. Good things may happen to good people, but the bad ones will meet with a savage fate indeed. These choices exist within a context of slapstick action that ropes in an over-the-freaking-top troupe of modern-day gypsies whose repertoire of magic tricks includes a walk-through mirror that leads to an altenative dimension.

It is within this alternative dimension that peoples' real desires and motivations are made visible, and here lies a powerful medium Gilliam takes full advantage of as he illustrates his dark-but-hopeful world view. Conmen and gangsters get their just deserts and the devil himself is held at bay as individuals who are set loose in the fantasy world beyond the curtain discover their true selves, and get to glimpse their futures.

Gilliam has fashioned a wonderful, rewarding and fun film that is highly recommended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved this movie...Love Heath Ledger...