Back to IndieWire

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Over the years, Terry Gilliam has become something of a brand name, leading moviegoers to expect a generous display of visual razzle-dazzle and an offbeat sensibility; the problem often lies in his story or screenplay. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, written by Gilliam and his frequent collaborator Charles McKeown, is one of his better endeavors: a bit rambling, but enjoyable.

Christopher Plummer plays the title character, who…

who operates a quaint theatrical troupe that travels around London in an old-fashioned caravan and engages audience members in its performance, using a magic mirror. The unsuspecting volunteers have no idea what lies in store for them. What’s more, it turns out Doctor Parnassus made a deal with the Devil, aka Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), a long time ago and a deadline is drawing near. Meanwhile, the troupe acquires a mysterious new member whom they rescue from the brink of death; he’s played by the late Heath Ledger.

There’s no point explaining any more of the serpentine story. Suffice it to say that Gilliam leads us through a series of imaginative experiences, mostly on the other side of the looking glass. Computer graphics have opened up a whole new world for Gilliam and he makes the most of those tools. But the film’s most unusual “special effect” is a quick-change moment when Ledger’s place is taken by Johnny Depp…then Jude Law…then Colin Farrell. You’re not sure whether to believe your eyes at first, but the substitution actually works quite well in the context of the film.

If you have a taste for the offbeat, and don’t mind a story that wanders a bit, I think you’ll enjoy what Gilliam has to offer.

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged , , , , , , ,


Barbara Jaeger

Dear Mr. Maltin,
I hope you can help bring me some peace of mind. For years I have been thinking about a movie I saw probably when I was a teen-ager back in the ’40’s. All I remember – taking into consideration that that was long ago – is the following scene most likely at or near the end of the movie.
A man and a woman are driving at night during a storm. A tree has fallen across the road so they can go no further. Conveniently there is a small church nearby which is open, and they enter and go up into the organ loft. Now this may be a figment of my imagination – in the loft they find a lunch left by the organist. Anyway, the rain is so bad that in the morning they find that the main floor of the church is flooded. At some point the doors of the church open and in comes a rescue rowboat. Their car had been noticed and the rescuers came on the correct assumption that the people would have gone into the church. The couple climb into the rowboat and as they leave, the gentleman puts money into the poor box next to the door.
How’s that for a memory from an old lady who sometimes can’t remember if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday when she wakes up in the morning!
So, does this scenario ring a bell with you? The man and woman are quite sophisticated and are wearing evening clothes I believe. The picture I think was in black and white.
If any of this seems familiar I would really appreciate knowing the film and stars. Chances are the film is lost and gone forever but it would be nice to know after all this time that I wasn’t making it up out of whole cloth.
Being 78 year old and my husband 88, we fondly remember the classic films of earlier years when it wasn’t all cars being blown up and language so bad you feel you have to wash out your ears.
Many thanks for any information you may be able to give me.
Barbara Jaeger
119 Lighthouse Ct
Sheboygan, WI 53081


Great Review. Proving once again that you’re the best critic out there.


The only negative endeavor by Gilliam is The Brothers Grimm, thanks to the contribution by the first class hacks, Harvey and Bob Weinstein. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Tideland are masterpieces.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *