For all intents and purposes The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnussus is a film that could easily have never seen the light of day. Halfway through filming one of the stars of the film, Heath Ledger, died leaving behind an unfinished work. Director, Terry Gilliam, pressed onwards and completed his film and while it is obvious that this is not the film the director originally intended to create he still hits the ball... not quite out of the park... but a triple play for damn sure.
Now be warned, most of you will not take to kindly to this picture. Through reading critical responses and hearing first hand from fellow film enthusiasts it is apparent that most don't share my positive take on the picture. Repeatedly i have read or heard the word "messy" with the general opinion being that the film quite frankly does not make a whole lot of sense for many.
For me (and keep in mind this could be because i watched the film in a theater alone, resulting in a more personal response than would have otherwise been had i seen it with someone) the film isn't so much messy as it is lucid. I walked in expecting a half-finished picture, something salvaged with what footage Gilliam captured with Ledger and stitched together the rest of the story using a device of having other big name actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell) to fill the shoes for him in missing parts.
When i first caught wind of Gilliams plan to use three different actors with such high profiles to finish Ledgers role i thought it was too good to be true.
Could Gilliam pull it off and make it work with the story he wanted to tell?
Well, yes and no.
Whenever the character Tony is inside the ¨real world¨ (is it?) he is played by Ledger and whenever Tony enters the imaginarium he is played by one of the three other actors.
I found the transitioning between the four actors worked quite well and for the most part we are given enough of an explanation to make it believable. Watching the three actors try their hand at playing Tony is both entertaining and moving, these three are not only playing the character the way Heath Ledger was playing him but they are also doing their best to imitate the actor as he was.
On the other hand there does seem to be something amiss story-wise with the character Tony, especially come the climax of the film. At times it feels like what the character has experienced inside the imaginarium isn't brought back with him when Ledger returns.
That is only one facet of what Imaginarium has to offer though, besides the character of Tony there´s many other story lines running parallel but trying to keep your eyes off Ledger here is quite tricky especially since his performance here is fantastic.
For me this picture makes a terrific book end to Gilliam´s ¨Life of Man¨films. It goes perfectly after Time Bandits (Child), Brazil (Man), and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Elderly) with Imagnarium being death or for the optimistic after-life. It is similar in tone and style to these terrific films and this picture is a true return to form for Gilliam.
If there were more of Gilliam´s signature visual style here that wasn't computer generated i think it would have become something truly special. The computer effects do capture Gilliam´s flair but it doesn't have the same charm as it does in his earlier works.
Call me sentimental but the computer can´t recreate Gilliam´s imagination half as good as Gilliam could with his hands... although it can do it quicker... quicker and much more cost effective.
Definitely not a film for everyone but i was completly lost in the beauty of it. It just felt and played like a Gilliam film to me and in the end it didn't feel messy or unfinished. It felt like Terry Gilliam made a film... go watch it.
Oh, and tis´a shame Tom Waits hasn´t received the praise he should have for his work here as the devil himself; Nick.
The Imaginirum of Dr. Parnussus is a film that speaks of the human imagination, the power it can weild over people, what sights can come of it, and how easy we can imagine ourselves falsely.