A hugely talented but socially isolated computer operator is tasked by Management to prove the Zero Theorem: that the universe ends as nothing, rendering life meaningless. But meaning is what he already craves.
In London, the sideshow troupe of Doctor Parnassus promises the audience a journey to the "Imaginarium", an imaginary world commanded by the mind of Doctor Parnassus, where dreams come true. In the stories that Doctor Parnassus tells to his daughter Valentina, the midget Percy, and his assistant Anton, he claims to have lived for more than one thousand years; However, when he fell in love with a mortal woman, he made a deal with the devil (Mr. Nick), trading his immortality for youth. As part of the bargain, he promised his son or daughter to Mr. Nick on their sixteenth birthday. Valentina is now almost to the doomed age and Doctor Parnassus makes a new bet with Mr. Nick, whoever seduces five souls in the Imaginarium will have Valentina as a prize. Meanwhile the troupe rescues Tony, a young man that was hanged on a bridge by the Russians. Tony was chased until he finds and joins the group. Tony and Valentina fall in love with each other and the jealous Anton discovers that his ...Written by
RubyRed, Seattle, Washington USA
When Dr. Parnassus is following Valentina through the concourse two young school girls in uniform pass him. Moments later when he's outside looking in the window, the same two girls can be seen entering the library. See more »
I found this film interesting and visually stunning, but flawed. At least one of the flaws cannot be attributed to faulty writing/production, but several others can be. For example, there is nothing new or original in the story: it is a straightforward retelling of Faust, the man who makes a pact with the devil and discovers that the devil is smarter and has all the time in the universe to prove it. The ideas of a man who asks for immortality but neglects to ask for eternal youth, and of a child born with a curse on her because of a prior wager her father has made with divine powers to further his own interests, are taken straight out of Greek mythology. Still, one could do worse than borrow from Goethe and Greek mythology.
The movie weaves in and out of mundane reality (the traveling freak show in modern England) and schizophrenic hallucinogenic scenes inside the Imaginarium, which is the carnival attraction into which Dr. P lures potential sacrificial victims in his attempt to outwit the devil. The scenes inside the Imaginarium show what happens when you give an ex-Python unlimited access to digital effects: quite stunning, but having little to do with the story. They show the fantasy of Gilliam running wild on a huge budget, more than effectively advancing the story of Dr. P and his accursed daughter. I ask myself what a 1930s producer/director, Fritz Lang or Tod Browning for example, might have done with this story and these characters, but without the digital effects- -the story might have benefited from leaving the hallucinogenic details more to the imagination of the viewer than brow-beating us with a pixel- barrage of details. The real horror of what Dr. P is doing is masked by the almost Dr. Seussian silliness of the visual effects (dancing policemen??): Dr. P is luring souls to eternal damnation in an attempt to free his daughter from a wager he made centuries ago. Dr. P is, in essence, trading in human souls. Dr. P himself is immortal, but his daughter is not, and time is running out for her; the horror of her situation, and the evil Dr. P is willing to perpetrate to undo the effects of his own damnable wager, could certainly have been ratcheted up by more subtle means than Gilliam employs here.
The reality scenes sometimes interweave with the fantastical ones in schizophrenic confusion, indicating, so I suppose, Dr. P's own tenuous grasp on reality. The schizophrenic quality of the film is enhanced by the fact that several different actors play the part of one of the main characters, Tony. I ask myself whether any producer/director would have chosen this as his preferred mechanism to unfold this story, and the answer I come up with is, "no". It is a trick which doesn't quite work for this story; though it did work for "I'm Not There" (no one could play Bob Dylan). The film just barely manages to make the trick plausible by implying that the differences in the character's appearance are due to the perspectives of the different people who perceive that character within the Imaginarium. OK, it was made necessary by the death of the actor in the middle of production, otherwise the film would not have gone public; I can see that Gilliam made the best of terribly unfortunate circumstances. But it is still a dubious trick.
The casting is excellent: Plummer is entirely convincing as the world- weary Faustian character, Miss Cole acquits herself well as the girl clueless as to her own impending doom, and Waits is superb as the devil. If I hadn't seen any other film with Heath Ledger in it, I would not have thought him an especially gifted actor based solely on this performance; maybe if he had completed the film, it would have shown his true abilities.
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