Posted by: David Stewart | April 18, 2010

Parnassus, storytelling and the midget

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus has all of the elements of a great morality play:

  • The struggle between Good and Evil
  • Life and death stakes
  • How story telling is foundational to the working of the universe

And a midget.

I have loved director Terry Gilliam’s pictures since Time Bandits stole my heart, a tale of six dwarves who steal a map to all time and space from God and join a small boy in an adventure against Evil. And Brazil defined the ultimate dystopian fable.

Parnassus sets the good vs evil contest in a carnival side show, as an ancient immortal man (Christopher Plummer) tries to beat the Devil (Tom Waits) at winning souls.

Most unusual of the souls at risk is Tony Shepherd (Heath Ledger) who is found hanging by a noose under a bridge, an eerie parallel to the actor’s early death during production of the movie. But Dr. Parnassus is in the business of opening up imaginations to what might be in someone’s life.

There is much to like about this tale:

  • Grand inner visions of imagination, conceived by master animator Gilliam (he animated the breaks between skits on Monty Python’s Flying Circus).
  • A few dystopian locations around today’s London are thrown in a la Brazil.
  • The carnival troop live in an incredibly tall horse-drawn wagon that contains their portable stage, and almost all of the action of the movie. This is an amazing device which serves to frame the setting.
  • The fill-in actors who take over the role that Ledger left vacant (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell) fill in nicely and perhaps give the film even more interest had the actor not died.

The weakest element of the film is editing. There are scenes of talking which do not serve a story purpose and slow the pace down overmuch.

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