The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

  • Directors: Terry Gilliam
  • Producers: Samuel Hadida, Amy Gilliam, William Vince, Terry Gilliam
  • Writers: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery
  • Actors: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Waits, with Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law

The plot revolves around one thousand year old Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his travelling theatre troupe, his “Imaginarium”, which includes sleight-of-hand expert Anton (Andrew Garfield) and dwarf Percy (Verne Troyer), as well as Parnassus’ daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), who travel around England, offering spectators the chance to go through a mirror, into their imagination. The film begins with them putting on one such show, outside a London pub. Their spectators come from people who have just been thrown out of the bar, and one particularly rowdy man boards the stage. Valentina, in an attempt to keep the peace, lures the man into the mirror, then escapes, leaving the man inside. The man is first surrounded by empty bottles of alcohol, signifying his alcoholism. He is taken into the sky by a strange hand-like creature, and then dropped onto an enormous thumbtack. He is then faced with a choice: climb an extremely high mountain, which would take a lot of effort, but ultimately lead to happiness, or the Devil’s choice, go into a small dingy pub located near the mountain. He chooses the latter, whereupon the pub explodes. Outside the Imaginarium, Parnassus knows that the Devil has claimed his soul. Anton talks their way out of trouble with the police, and they set off to another location. On their way there, Anton stops the cart on a bridge, having seen someone (Heath Ledger) ‘dancing’ on the river. They soon deduce it is the shadow of a man hanging, so they get him up, and, while attempting to revive him, a metal pipe comes out of his throat, explaining why he is not dead. After they again set off, the Devil (Tom Waits), whom Parnassus calls Mr. Nick, informs him that the stranger’s name is Anthony Sheppard, and that he ran a children’s charity. Parnassus, believing that the Devil has sent Anthony, furiously demands for him to leave. The next morning, Percy sees that there are several red symbols on the head of Tony, who pretends to have lost his memory. He meets the rest of the troupe, hitting it off particularly with Valentina, while Anton distrusts him. He suggests he joins them, presumably because he is a missing person, a disgraced charity runner, presumed dead, and they agree. Parnassus tells Valentina the story of how he was first visited by the Devil, when he was a young man, amongst many monks constantly speaking the stories of the universe, in the belief that it would be destroyed if the story was stopped. The Devil silences everyone to prove that this is false, but Parnassus insists the story is being spoken somewhere in the world. Frustrated, the Devil makes a wager with him; if Parnassus gathers twelve followers before the Devil, he will grant him eternal life. In the end, the Devil let him win, knowing that there would come a time where people will not listen to his stories. The Devil comes to Parnassus with a change in the wager; instead of Valentina belonging to him once she turned sixteen, if Parnassus is the first to win five souls in the Imaginarium, he will be free of the bargain. However, they have only two days to do this. Tony suggests they liven up the show to attract more spectators, and, by doing this in a shopping centre, they attract a woman into entering the Imaginarium, who, aided by Tony, whose appearance is altered in the Imaginarium (now Johnny Depp), chooses the ‘right’ path. Three others are won, but Tony is chased in the Imaginarium (now Jude Law) by four Russian men. They arrive in a field of ‘ladders to success’, which Tony begins to climb, this being his temptation. The men eventually catch up to him, about to hang him, which Tony prepares for by sliding the metal pipe down his throat again, but notice his change in appearance. His is given away by the red symbols on his forehead, but the Russians are tempted by the Devil. He now has four souls, needing only one more to win the wager. He is led out of the Imaginarium by Anton, despite wanting desperately to go back to the ladders to success. Once they are back, Valentina flees after hearing about the terms of the original bargain. They now have only one hour to win the last soul. Tony volunteers to be the last soul, and he is followed by Valentina into the Imaginarium. After Valentina and Tony (now Colin Farrell) havesex on a boat, they come across a small child, who Tony sees as his temptation. He is then at a convention publicising himself as a successful charity runner, but, Anton, having gone into the Imaginarium as a small child, reveals to Valentina the corrupt nature of his fund, Suffer The Little Children, he beats him up on stage, causing the crowd to chase after him. Meanwhile, Anton falls off a cliff, dying in both the Imaginarium and the real world. Valentina, furious at her father, is faced with two choices, one of which she knows to be the Devil’s. She defiantly chooses the Devil, and he, as a result, wins the wager. The Devil tempts Parnassus again, saying that if he can kill Tony, he will give Valentina back to him. Tony reaches the top of a mountain, with the angry mob close behind him, seeing Dr. Parnassus and a gallows. He sees this as an oppurtunity to escape, and Parnassus offers him two metal pipes, a solid one, and one that breaks quite easily. The one he chooses, Parnassus swallows, and hangs himself. Tonty quickly cuts him down and gets the pipe out of him, putting it down his own throat. As he is being hung, he sees Parnassus spit out a broken pipe, and smiles, but he then spits out a solid pipe, and Tony realises that he will die, just before his is hung and his neck breaks. Parnassus now wanders down the mountain, coming to a signpost, which he sees as another sign of the Devil tempting him. He falls to the ground in despair, and looks up to find himself inadveredly begging in the street. He sees Valentina as she passes, and realises that she is indeed happy. Percy finds Parnassus, and the film ends with them selling miniature Imaginariums on the street, while the Devil tempts the customers, ever searching for a wager.

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