Monday, October 26, 2009

will your soul fly?

Receiving most of its publicity for being the movie Heath Ledger died while still filming, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is quite the trip. Ledger is first seen on screen hanging by a noose from a bridge. Tom Waits plays the devil. And even a monk can be swayed by the temptations of immortality. Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 12 Monkeys) has said Dr. Parnassus is supposed to be a "fun and humorous story about the consequences of our personal choices in life," but it comes off darker than that. Perhaps it is in part due to the film's posthumous release of its star, coming more than a year after Ledger's death. But even the movie's composition is dark. The costumes and sets are somewhat gaudy, reminiscent of a Victorian traveling theatre troupe, but they remain dusky. Only in the imagination of the characters are there wide open spaces. The characters are usually held tight in the mise-en-scene by limiting, controlling spaces. This is all reminiscent of the controls we put on our creativity but also the temptations of the devil.

The images of the film are fantastic and fully absorb the audience. When a bright desert meets the inky, black river of immortality the scene looks like it may have been painted by Salvador Dali. 647 different effects were used in post-production to create this fantasy. It is not a story of a princess and her ideal prince with talking animals. It is the tale of dancing with the devil (literally), human faults, the disappointments of our dreams, and the Old Nick in each of us.

Gilliam overcame unbelievable complications. An actor dying a third of the way through a film, especially an actor as powerful as Ledger, is completely traumatizing to not only the movie, but also the cast and crew. CGI was considered for recreating Ledger for the rest of the movie, but instead Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell were all cast to play Tony (Ledger's character) in the imagination sequences. They were chosen not only because they're all strong actors but also because of their respect for and friendship with Ledger. Depp clearly stands out as the most similar to Ledger in the film, but the casting of each was accurate and the effect isn't too jarring. The casting of Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus and Lily Cole as his seductive daughter were both impeccable choices as well.

For the first time in a long time, a movie fully immersed me so much that all other thoughts were lost. A movie that can do that to my busy mind is definitely worth something.

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