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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Year: 2009 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 12A Cert – Under 12s admitted only with an adult 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Terry Gilliam 
Starring: Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits  
An image from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Surrealist charm and Terry Gilliam’s visual eye are just a couple of the delights on offer in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, a film that has become rather more notorious than anyone could have imagined. Much has been made of this film as being the last Heath Ledger made before his untimely death, but the fears that could have overshadowed the film have been quenched as Johnny Depp charms, Jude Law smarms and Colin Farrell punches and shags their way through the film.

They each take turns to complete the unfinished narrative, in a rather eccentric and beautifully orchestrated twist: as the protagonist Tony dives head first through the enchanted mirror into the otherworld of the Imaginarium, his appearance changes from Ledger into one of the other three stars. Echoes of 'Alice in Wonderland' are apparent, but with a distinctively British slant, as even that staple English store Homebase gets a surprising amount of screen time.

As Dr. Parnassus (Plummer) and his daughter Valentina (Cole) travel around the murky and grimy streets of London, iconic tourist locations are shunted into the background to give a sinister appearance which contrasts with the bubblegum world inside the Imaginarium’s door. The film’s style seems to be a collision of Méliés-esque fantasy and Tim Burton horror, with more than a hint of the Lynchean surreal. We are treated to a film of the senses, where imagination literally runs wild.

There are peaks and troughs aplenty in this film, which has so many ideas effectively displayed with Gilliam’s guiding hand: Farrell's turn as Tony, and Tom Waits as the Devil are both particular highlights. This film is one of the most discussed of 2009, and a true cinematic pleasure. Miss it at your peril.

Jack Porter

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Screenings of this film:

2009/2010 Spring Term (35mm)
2009/2010 Spring Term (35mm)