If you're well aware of Terry Gilliam's movies, then you'd know what to expect from his own Imaginarium of stories that get translated to film, stopping short of saying that they're fairy tale fantasies for adults. No doubt the main draw of the film would be that it's Heath Ledger's last working film before he passed away, and with a clever rewrite of portions coupled with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell all stepping up to the plate to take over (and bring along their own legion of fans), I'd dare say this film had benefited from its own near death of being shut down, and probably exposed writer-director Gilliam to a wider audience.
As the story goes, Dr Parnassus runs a sort of circus troupe with his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), and together with Anton (Andrew Garfield) and Percy (Verne Troyer aka Mini-Me), their selling act is the Imaginarium which is a portal that will allow those who enter it, a glimpse into and to live out their dream life, for a short while at least, before emerging with that orgasmic satisfaction. That's the plan at least, because they only attract the wrong crowd of troublemakers and have difficulty in making ends meet. Not to mention of course having the devil Mr Nick (Tom Waits) always around the corner waiting for Lily's 16th birthday to whisk her away, as the prize to an agreement with Parnassus.
A new wager got bet between the devil and Parnassus, and as if told through Fate, Parnassuss and his team would rescue a man found hanging from a bridge (Ledger), who would turn out to be their saviour as he joins their troupe while trying to figure out his own identity, and things start to look up for them all as the new teammate seems to relish in working the crowd and yielding an audience for their act.
In some ways I can't help but to chuckle at the character of Tony, being the shady hero here with the coming up of a scheme to help Dr Parnassus, drawing on his own personal background as a charity fund raiser. This of course ties in very well to the local context, where there has been a fair number of smooze scammers or wayward individuals who had started off with good intentions ony to find themselves faltering, and in many ways Tony reminds us of them. His plan to help Parnassus involved the jazzing up of their troupe, the telling of white lies, and then selling them through charisma and sideshow acts in order to draw in the funds, and souls of course as the ultimate objective to prevent the devil from exacting the agreement.
Despite having three other actors covering for him, there is still a lot of Ledger in the film, having each of the others helm just but a segment of the Imaginarium sequence when the character Tony steps through the magic mirror. Which of course worked wonders since each segment touches on a different aspect and facet of the character, with only good looks being the constant here. I couldn't have imagined how Ledger would have carried the role in its entirety, though it does give good reason that this was something of a perfect follow up to his Joker role, something which was balanced between comedy, drama, and the high jinks.
Those who like their fantasy films full of colour, and fantasy drawn from pure imagination, would find them bountiful in this movie. Terry Gilliam scores a fantastic winner here, and despite not thoroughly liking his earlier films, I found this one thoroughly enjoyable, and am looking forward to future tales that come from his imaginary worlds.