Creative problems ask for creative solutions. This must have been clear to Terry Gilliam when he was in the middle of shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Heath Ledger died. Gilliam didn’t fret, he just shot down production for a month and looked for a solution – a solution which, in my opinion, makes the movie better than it might have been.
George, no Barry
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus tells an ancient story: the pact with the Devil. Immediately, upon the introduction of this Becketian Devil, a little bell started ringing in my head: this movie was either going to be lame or not end well. You see, a Devil’s pact has a slight disadvantage: you can’t win.
That doesn’t mean that Parnassus is automatically a dark movie: sure, it has its dark passages, but it doesn’t traumatise – not in the slightest. One could even say it’s quirky, kind of like Alice in Wonderland, we get to cast a look into someone’s mind; a look very similar to a feverish dream. Funnily enough, Parnassus’ mind is exactly what I imagined Terry Gilliams mind to be like.
No review without Heath
It would be impossible to talk about this movie without discussing Tony, Heath’s character. It should be no secret that Ledger died in the middle of shooting this film, and that – seeing how much time and money had been sunk into it – the team would have to come up with a solution.
In my opinion, they did this brilliantly: Ledger, upon entering the imaginarium, is performed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. If you think they shoehorned those actors in just to cover Ledger’s death, rest assured: they are a great addition to the story and even add more depth to it.
I’ll start by saying this: every metamorphosis is treated like a reveal. This means that we, the audience, are just as surprised to see a different actor as Tony himself. But it’s not just that – it’s made into a vital character point: Parnassus doesn’t know who he is, we don’t know who he is… in fact, he doesn’t even know himself! The character feels like a chameleon – the change in actor just empathizes this.
I’m not saying The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a stroke of genious. It’s not, it has flaws (the plot is kind of hairy, it’s very entertaining but never tense, …). I’m saying this movie shows how you can find a creative solution to a very unfortunate problem. And just for that, it’s worth going to go and see it.