The whole film world was shocked last year by the tragic death of Heath Ledger, but I am willing to suggest that director Terry Gilliam felt the loss of the brilliant young actor more than most. Former Python Gilliam, who has gone on to become an award-winning film-maker in his own right, would have firstly mourned the loss of his close friend, and then secondly realized that his latest movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, was destined to join The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (whose disastrous production was recorded in all its horrific glory in the stunning documentary Lost In La Mancha) and A Tale Of Two Cities as another great unrealised Gilliam project. Thanks to an imaginative rewrite of the script though, and Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell each stepping in to replace Ledger as Tony, the mysterious outsider, (and each donating his wages for the role to Ledger’s daughter Matilda) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is finally ready to see the light of day. The only question is, after such a troubled and tragic conception, can the final film truly live up to expectation, burdened as it is by containing the final ever performance of such a talented young man?
I am happy to report that Doctor Parnassus is a triumph, and Gilliam’s best film since he adapted Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 11 years ago. Few could handle the loss of one of their lead actors in such a deft manner, but fortunately Gilliam’s films exist in such a strange and picturesque universe that when Ledger’s character begins to travel between worlds and his appearance changes accordingly, the viewer takes it all in their stride. A brief retelling of the plot indicates just how fantastical a film this is; Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a centuries-old magician touring London with his travelling sideshow and beautiful daughter. He will go on to battle The Devil (played by Tom Waits in arguably the most ingenious piece of casting of all time) for the souls of those he encounters. To give away more would spoil one of the most ingenious films of the year. Doctor Parnassus is brilliant and beautiful, a fitting legacy to an actor as brave as Ledger, and when the final credit “A Film by Heath Ledger and Friends” rolls around, you will consider yourself privileged to have travelled on this particular magical mystery tour.
Director: Terry gilliam
Cast: Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, Tom Waits
Running Time: 122 minutes