Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Heath Ledger’s death the least of Dr. Parnassus’ problems

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge HEATH IN WONDERLAND: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus was Heath Ledger's last film before his untimely death.
  • HEATH IN WONDERLAND: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus was Heath Ledger's last film before his untimely death.

The most impressive thing about The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is its very existence. About a third of the way through filming the mind-bending fantasy, leading man Heath Ledger died of a tragic drug overdose. Director Terry Gilliam, who's suffered more than his share of troubled productions, ingeniously cast three of Ledger's A-list friends – Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell – to play Ledger's character.

In interviews, Gilliam explains that Ledger had filmed all his scenes except those that take place in a dream-universe on the other side of a magic mirror. In the finished film, every time Ledger's "Tony" steps through the looking glass, one of the other movie stars emerges from the other side, with an identical white suit and hairstyle. Gilliam claims that apart from setting up the transformation gimmick, none of the words in Imaginarium's script were changed. A scene in which Depp mentions how Casanova, James Dean and Princess Diana died prematurely and became "forever young" becomes a haunting tribute to Ledger.

The triple recasting of Ledger's role turns out to be one of the few successful aspects of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a strained and scarcely coherent allegory that showcases some of Gilliam's greatest strengths, as well as the filmmaker's conspicuous flaws. Christopher Plummer plays Dr. Parnassus, an aged storyteller who tours the world in a ramshackle medicine-show wagon worthy of the late 19th century. Dr. Parnassus' traveling theater troupe includes his teenage daughter Valentina (model/actress Lily Cole), lovelorn sleight-of-hand artist Anton (Andrew Garfield) and midget Percy (Verne "Mini Me" Troyer). In the first scenes, they perform for rowdy, unimpressed drunks in a squalid London alley.

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(Photo Liam Daniel/Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

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