A few, quick thoughts for those of you eager to know about The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.
First, though, a bit of context. When I emerged from Leicester Square tube station at around 5.45pm on Friday and headed towards Soho for the Parnassus screening, there was a strong smell of smoke in the air, crowds on the streets, and TV crews and fire engines parked at the Old Compton Street junction with Dean Street, which is where the screening was due to take place and which the police had cordoned off. It turned out that an office building on Dean Street had gone up in flames and my immediate thought, other than I hope no one had been killed or injured, was that the screening was going to be cancelled, and that the curse of Terry Gilliam was somehow going to strike again.
Fortunately not. The screening went ahead and I have to report that for Gilliam fans, it's the film we've all been waiting for. Pure, unadulterated Gilliam from beginning to end — and the Gilliam of Time Bandits, Baron Munchausen and Brazil — Parnassus is perhaps the closest thing there is to actually travelling into the mind of one of cinema's most idiosyncratic and inventive artists.
The plot revolves around Christopher Plummer's thousand-year-old Parnassus and his wager with Tom Waits' Devil who's turned up, somewhat prematurely, to collect his winnings in the form of Parssus's soon to be sixteen-year-old daughter Valentina (model Lily Cole). Together with Andrew Garfield's eager Anton and Verne Troyer's faithful Percy, the four form a traveling troupe of actors and storytellers who find, one night, Heath Ledger's Tony hanging by a rope beneath a London bridge, a morbid scene made even harder to watch given Ledger's tragic death mere weeks after filming it. Figuring him to be The Hanging Man of the Tarot and a sign of good fortune in his long-standing wager with Old Nick, Parnassus welcomes Tony to their vaudeville stage show which features, as its main attraction, a special mirror — a portal into a magical wonderland young Alice would have approved of — which offers the entrant a peak into their imagination, whatever it maybe.
It's with this land that Gilliam cements his place as an amazing fantasist, the various CGI worlds brimming with surreal, Dali-esque fantasies and nightmare touches, be it a series of giant, floating Parnassus heads, or giant jellyfish, or rivers that transform into snakes, and a land in which souls are forced to choose between Parnassus or the Devil. It's in this land, too, that Ledger's Tony becomes Johnny Depp and Jude Law and Colin Farrell, a ploy that might well have backfired, a la Plan 9 From Outer Space, but works a treat, each actor not only looking like Heath to varying degrees but playing his character too.
It's a movie not without some flaws, but it matters not one iota. This was a movie from the heart even before Ledger's tragic and untimely demise. It's even more of one now.
Welcome back Terry, you were missed.