The words, “A film from Heath Ledger and friends,” appear on screen at the conclusion of Terry Gilliam’s latest, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.” Finished in the wake of Ledger’s death last January, Gilliam initially shut down the film, but eventually re-grouped and found a way to sort out the story.
“It was quite extraordinary,” Gilliam said this morning at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film is screening out of competition, “Everybody in the cast and everbody in the crew was determined that this film would be finished.”
Set in the present day, Gilliam’s “Parnassus” is the story of a ragtag group of circus-like performers – the aging Doctor (Christopher Plummer), his sidekick (Vern Troyer), his young daughter (Lily Cole), her suitor (Andrew Garfield) – who travel in a ramshackle moving theater pulled by horses. In their roadshows, they take guests through a magic mirror that takes them into an imaginary universe. Along the way, they find a mysterious man (Heath Ledger) hanging from a bridge, trying to kill himself and welcome the outsider into their world.
Gilliam tapped Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play Ledger’s character when he steps through the mirror to enter Gilliam’s imaginary world late in the film, cleverly solving the problem of losing a key actor.
“It was people’s love for Heath that propelled this thing forward,” Gilliam summarized. “We finished the film for Heath.”
In this at times messy spectactle, Terry Gilliam is exploring the importance of storytelling and imagination, taking viewers into his own mind, weaving a story comprised of ideas he’s been collecting for years.
“The restructuring of the world through stories is vital,” Gilliam explained today in Cannes, “Using one’s imagination to expand the possibilites of the view of the world that people have.”
Asked on numerous occasions about Heath Ledger today in Cannes, Gilliam summarized simply at one point, “I hope he would be pleased with this movie. I think he would be.”