Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Now Showing
Hoyts Distribution

For those of a ghoulsih persuasion who were anticipating Heath Ledger's final performance, you won't be disappointed with his entrance: suspended from a London bridge via a rope, his lifeless body hanging in the night breeze.

That comes about 20 minutes in to Terry Gilliam's latest flight of fancy, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a puzzle of a film title to go with his story, such as it is. Dr Parnassus (played by Christopher Plummer and resembling some kind of Dumbledore fallen on hard times) has been blessed/cursed with eternal life following a Faustian deal. A subsequent deal with the Devil (musician Tom Waits) has also given him a daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), whom the Devil has come to claim on her fast approaching 16th birthday, as per their agreement.

But joining this travelling troupe, which includes Anton (Andrew Garfield), a young man in love with Valentina, and Percy (Austin Powers' Verne Troyer), the Jiminy Cricket of these performing rogues, is Ledger's Tony. Saved from his suspected suicide and seeming to suffer amnesia, he joins this motley crew as they perform for small audiences; the centrepiece of their show is Dr Parnassus' Imaginarium, a mirror which sees people enter a parallel universe of their imagination's making. The trick: to choose good or evil. At stake: their souls.

As we all know, Ledger died during the filming of Doctor Parnassus. Luckily (for lack of a better word) for Gilliam and co., Ledger had completed all his scenes that occur in the "real world". When his character passes through the mirror, he is played by three different actors - Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell - revealing Tony's different character traits. And to be honest, it is in these scenes that the film picks up; not just because of the trio of actors but the visuals as well, giving flight to Gilliam's own imagination.

Given Ledger's untimely passing and the subsequent interest in this film, I had feared this would be an over-praised final tribute to the actor, mourning blinding many to any deficits of the film. But The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is not a bad film. It's no masterpiece by any means but it follows its own internal logic - even if I struggled to - and is never dull.

And Ledger's performance is fine for what it is. But if you want a lasting legacy of the man as an artist I'd stick with his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

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