VIFF 2009: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


The Buzz:

Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) is back with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus but this London and Vancouver-shot trip into the human subconscious received most of its buzz by unfortunately being the late Heath Ledger's final movie.

Scene setter:

One of the special presentations on the Vancouver International Film Festival line-up, Imaginarium played in front of a sold-out crowd at the Visa Screening Room at Empire Granville 7 Cinemas.

Tickets for the 9:30 p.m. screening were gone by mid-day and those lucky enough to grab a magical pass formed a huge line outside the theatre by 8.

Fantastic voyage:

An out-of-touch, and always drunk, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plumber) travels London with his rickety sideshow and struggles to find an audience in the modern world.

But that all changes when the troupe saves the mysterious and troubled Tony (Ledger), who makes full use of his wit and charm to entice women to take a trip through the Imaginarium's mirror - taking them on a psychedelic journey through their greatest hopes, desires and vices.

What they don't know, however, is that they've also stepped into a life-or-death battle for souls between Parnassus and the evil Mr. Nick (played by Tom Waits).

"We Love Violence!"

None of Gilliam's invention and humour goes to waste as unsuspecting victims walk through the magic mirror.

The dream-like scenes aren't just eye-candy, they also serve as a hilarious mirror into our own world - poking fun at our all-encompassing thirst for success, wealth, sex and power. And where else can you find a can-can line of police officers in stockings and heels belting out a tune on police brutality?

The Monty Python is strong with this one.

Character roles:

The entire movie is grand theatre, from the sets to the eccentric acting.

While not as captivating as his iconic role as The Joker in The Dark Night, Ledger puts in an energetic final performance by letting his expressions and body language do most of the talking.

When Tony steps through the mirror though, Ledger is replaced by Johnny Depp (brilliant), Jude Law (out of his element) and a game Colin Farrell as warped versions of the character.


As much as the visuals take centre-stage, the movie is essentially a tale of an ancient storyteller, Dr. Parnassus, who seeks purpose in a new world while the devil quite literally lurks behind every shadow, threatening his ideals and loved ones.

Can Parnassus use his fantastic Imaginarium to enlighten people's lives, or will material temptations shatter their dreams?

One more chance:

Didn't get a ticket to Friday's show? The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus plays one more day during VIFF.

Catch it Sunday, Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. at Empire Granville 7 Cinemas, 855 Granville Street. Make sure you get there early.



An entertaining fable that has a lot to say about modern society between all the sights and gags, but it's lacking the emotional punch needed to make it great.