Unlike just about any movie I can remember, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus takes trippiness to a whole new level. This is a story about the fertile imagination of one Doctor Parnassus, a man who has won immortality in a bet with the devil. And it is the story of how he tries to free himself from his constant wheeling and dealing with said devil. To that end, he is helped by a strangely mysterious man, acted eccentrically by Heath Ledger. It must be pointed out that Heath Ledger died during this movie and, as a result, his role is taken over by three other famous actors (Jude Law, Johnny Depp, and Colin Farrell). Each of them did it essentially for free, giving all their wages to Heath Ledger's daughter.
As a consequence, the movie has an epic and timeless feel to it, along with a focus on the fleeting nature of life. Completely unplanned, this was to be one of the themes all along, a theme given extra staying power by Heath Ledger's unexpected death. Incredibly vivid (and incredibly random) expressions of various characters' imaginations make the film even more memorable. The quirkiness of the characters add even more icing to the cake. In the end, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a movie that sticks with you, which is always the sign of a good one. I can easily recommend this to anyone who has an open mind, and particularly to those who have a love of theater, imagination, and storytelling.
Part of what gives The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus such appeal is the ability the movie has to completely capture your attention and to send your own imagination soaring. Insane amounts of eye candy arises from dipping into the imaginations of the characters. Whenever someone enters the unique mirror within Parnassus' possession, they are taken to a landscape that shapes itself based upon that person's imagination. Ultimate power seems to lie within Parnassus' mind, as that is what the characters enter when they walk through the mirror, but the geography itself is created in reaction to those who enter it, not Parnassus himself. It is complicated to be sure; the uncertainty of its rules help to make the film incredibly trippy, yet similarly intoxicating to watch.
And one should never underestimate the crazy stuff that happens within this old guy's mind. Among much else, one gets to see a landscape of massive high heels and jewelry, a massive babushka, a severed head that uses its tongue like a helicopter, and a shifting mess of mirrors and broken glass. This movie will make you go, "Wait, what?" and, "Ooooh!" at the same time. And, for the most part, this is a great thing.
One other thing that made the movie magnificent for me was the oddball cast of characters that populated it. The film is centered on the travels of one theatrical troupe, and each one of them is complicated, brilliant, hilarious, and flawed in their own way. Parnassus is wise, yet easily tempted. Open-minded, yet remarkably close-minded at the same time. Heath Ledger's character, Tony, is perhaps the most confusing and complicated of them all; to the point where I wasn't quite sure whether to like him or not by the end of the movie. And there are many more besides these two, and they are each incredibly interesting to watch in their own ways.
To that end, the replacement of Heath Ledger by the other three actors turned out to be surprisingly seamless and to make sense within the story itself. Tony is duplicitous and hidden by nature, so for his face to shift within an already bizarre imaginary world didn't cause me to raise much more than an eyebrow, except with regard to seeing how these other actors did with their Heath Ledger impersonation. And, for the most part, they each pull it off with admirable aplomb. Of them all, I only felt that Colin Farrell wasn't quite at that level, and even he was still interesting to watch.
In the end, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasuss is an exceedingly engrossing film about one man and his effort to win out against the wiles of the devil. Yet this is not a religious movie. God makes no appearance, and the devil turns out to be somewhat sympathetic in his own right. Instead, they create a dichotomy. Parnassus tries to win over people with the appeal of stories and the imagination whereas the devil attempts the same through appeal to addictive impulses and desires. It is a grand struggle that takes place on a very personal and (naturally) imaginary level. And it makes for a movie that is both grand and, occasionally, incredibly confusing to watch.
For the 'Imaginarium' seems to lack consistency or a predictable set of rules. Perhaps that is the point, but it creates a film that confuses as often as it delights. Some of the references and story points didn't make much sense. Tony's connection to the charity seemed rather out of the blue and, come to think of it, I'm still not sure whether Tony was a good guy or not. His status as the 'Hanged Man' seemed to mean something important, but it sure went over my head if it did.
Anyways, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is definitely worth watching. It is a beautiful movie, made especially poignant by the knowledge that, at some point in the movie, Heath Ledger won't come back again. But, be wary. This movie will make you go, "WTF?" faster than you can count if you aren't prepared for it.