First published January 21, 2010 – revised 1/25/10, 11:00 pm
Director/Writer Terry Gilliam must have channeled both Salvador Dali and Walt Disney to create this film.
I don’t know if it’s partly because I know one of the players, but I say “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” is one of the best movies I’ve seen.
Plot synopsis from IMDb: “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fantastical morality tale, set in the present day. It tells the story of Dr Parnassus and his extraordinary ‘Imaginarium’, a travelling show where members of the audience get an irresistible opportunity to choose between light and joy or darkness and gloom. Blessed with the extraordinary gift of guiding the imaginations of others, Dr Parnassus is cursed with a dark secret. Long ago he made a bet with the devil, Mr Nick, in which he won immortality. Many centuries later, on meeting his one true love, Dr Parnassus made another deal with the devil, trading his immortality for youth, on condition that when his first-born reached its 16th birthday he or she would become the property of Mr Nick. Valentina is now rapidly approaching this ‘coming of age’ milestone and Dr Parnassus is desperate to protect her from her impending fate. Mr Nick arrives to collect but, always keen to make a bet, renegotiates the wager. Now the winner of Valentina will be determined by whoever seduces the first five souls. Enlisting a series of wild, comical and compelling characters in his journey, Dr Parnassus promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man that helps him win. In this captivating, explosive and wonderfully imaginative race against time, Dr Parnassus must fight to save his daughter in a never-ending landscape of surreal obstacles – and undo the mistakes of his past once and for all… ”
From the opening scenes and throughout most of the movie there’s a “dream-imagery” which evokes the inner-fantasy part of a cozy opium-den (not that I would know) or a Daliesque landscape with bright blue-skies, rowboats and a bovine carcass floating in the water. The water scene reminds one – of the clips in Dali’s Un Chien Andalou when “the woman’s left eyeball is sliced-open with a straight-edge razor,” or “the piano/horse scene.”
The warm reds, golds, maroons, purples and whatevers of the living-quarters of Dr. Parnassus’ horse-drawn wagon A.K.A. *The Imaginarium are so soothing that I wanted those scenes to go on and on without end. Another memorable scene reveals artistic excellence when a “wall of reality” is peeled open.”
This is a streeetch, however there is a little coffee-house, in one of my favorite cities, Santa Ana, California called The Gypsy Den. I first discovered it when I was living in Santa Ana – Right, just like Columbus.
The Gypsy Den is on First Avenue and Broadway, if I recall correctly. It is anchoring a corner in the Hispanic area of Santa Ana. For me that is part of its charm. The interior is authentic Gypsy: old stuffed divans, couches and sofa-chairs, old oil-paintings, posters, old pictures and books. I recall scarves, candles, brass, a coffee-bar with pastry cases, giant coffee cups and California girls pouring coffee and serving cinnamon roles A.K.A. rolls.
There’s an old cigarette-burned piano in a stage-like area, and tables near windows which let in California sunshine. There’s a garden-of-eden patio on the North, in a bit of heaven – an old Santa Ana coblestoned town-square. Three blocks north on Broadway, you’re in Mexico, USA.
There is a point to all this, The Gypsy Den is a bit of Dr. Parnassus’ Imaginarium.
All of the actors shine: Christopher Plummer’s Dr. Parnassus is as powerful as a Star Wars character. The team effort of Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Jude Law and Colin Farrell (listed in order of appearance,) all playing the character named Tony is interesting and seamless.
Tom Waits as Mr. Nick, the devil should get top kudos for best performance of a devil. Lily Cole’s (Kewpie-Doll) Valentina, the good Doctor’s daughter-in-peril is sexy-sweet-charming, and Paloma Faith is stop-cold stunning [see photo.] She is Mr. Nick’s flashy, diamond-girlfriend, Sally. Verne Troyer is magnificent as Dr. Parnassus’s diminutive assistant.
If I were giving out awards I’d give Christopher Plummer an award for best actor; I’d give an award to Tom Waits for best supporting actor, or to Verne Troyer for best supporting actor. I’d give out awards for set design, art design/direction, costumes, music and more. Lily Cole is very believable as Valentina. Andrew Garfield deserves a mention. His character, Anton is the Imaginarium’s barker and Valentina’s love interest. Tony (The late Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell) should get an award for being able to wear the same suit.
*Yeah, I realize that the phenomenon of the Imaginarium extends far beyond the boundaries of the wagon.