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Deconstructing Imaginarium [Jan. 13th, 2010|01:34 am]
susan smitten

I was looking for some discussion and analysis of Imaginarium, and found hundreds of reviews that are sort of hard to sift through, and not much in the way of interpretation. Then I realized the film has only been out for a few days in most cities around the world. So I'll post thoughts as they come to me, and invite you, friends and strangers, to post yours. Let's figure this movie out!

Here's some stuff I emailed to my movie companion in the two after the film got out:

"Does it come with a happy ending?"
"We can't guarantee that."

Maybe the ending (of the film) is up to the imagination of the viewer.

Maybe Mr. Nick conceded the fight because Tony "chose" to be the fifth soul before going through the mirror, and Mr. Nick gives him that one even though it was on the wrong side of the mirror.

I still think there's a chance the whole bet was nullified and the Dr. got his immortality back.

And, either way, there might be a chance another deal was struck. Maybe Val got her "normal" life as part of a wager, maybe involving her daughter?

Other thoughts....

Imagery/cinematography/style choices I liked:
*Tony is lying on the ground after he first wakes up after being saved, and the doctor is crouching over him, face to face. Tony appears upside down to the audience.
*Valentina's red dress as she dances with the devil.

Symbolism, obvious and otherwise:
*The "His" and "Hers" mirrors. Val craves a pastoral domestic fantasy.
*"Rain on 5th." Complete with huge Chinese character for rain. It was pouring rain when Anton and Val dragged Tony up onto the bridge. The window of "Rain on 5th" frames the happy family like a painting.

Supremely Gilliam imagery:
*The Parnassus cop head with the unfurling tongue. Cops in lingerie for extra Pythonism.
*The Russian mother who removes her head to reveal Mr. Nick controlling her body with various levers.


[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-12 10:27 pm (UTC)
From http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100106/REVIEWS/100109988:

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

BY ROGER EBERT / January 6, 2010

The motto of Second City is "Something Wonderful Right Away," and maybe Terry Gilliam has the words displayed on his mirror when he shaves every morning. He has never faltered. "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" could be seen as a sideshow version of his own life, with him playing the role of the pitchman who lures you into his fantasies. That they may seem extravagant and overheated, all smoke and mirrors, is, after all, in their very nature.

The story in Gilliam's fevered film is all over the map, as usual, but this time there's a reason. His wild inventions in character, costumes and CGI effects are accounted for by a plot that requires revolving worlds. Elements of this plot were made necessary by the death of Heath Ledger halfway into the filming, but the plot itself I think was in place from the first.

It involves a bizarre, threadbare traveling show that unfolds out of a rickety old wagon in rundown pockets of London occupied mostly by drunks and grotesques. The show consists of the (very, very) old Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) perching ominously on a stool while his barker, Anton (Andrew Garfield); his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), and his angry dwarf, Percy (Verne Troyer), perform for an unruly handful of lager louts.

Percy and Anton save the life of a man hanging from a bridge. Why only they can perform this task is wisely not explained. The man on the rope is Tony (Heath Ledger). I know. He joins the show, is appalled by its archaic form and suggests updates. The reason it's creaky is that Parnassus is many centuries old, having made a pact with Satan (Tom Waits, as usual) to live forever on condition that Satan can possess Valentina (Lily Cole) when she turns 16. You have to admit Parnassus didn't rush into reproduction. Of course he wants out of the deal. Satan frequently runs into credit payment risks.

Tony, it develops, can enter/evoke/control/create strange worlds on the other side of a lookingglass on the shabby stage. In these worlds, anything goes, which is always to Gilliam's liking. CGI allows the director and his designers to run riot, which they do at a gallop, and some wondrous visions materialize.

I believe Ledger was intended to be the guide through all of these realms. But Gilliam apparently completed filming all the outer-world London scenes, Ledger returned to New York for R&R, and the rest is sad history. Gilliam replaced him by casting Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as the Tonys of Imaginariums Nos. 1 through 3 and offering no other explanation, as indeed with Imaginariums, he isn't required to do. Depp looks the most like Ledger, but it's a melancholy fact that Farrell steals the role.

My problem with Gilliam's films is that they lack a discernible storyline. I don't require A-B-C, Act 1-2-3, but I do rather appreciate having some notion of a film's own rules. Gilliam indeed practices "Something Wonderful Right Away," and you get the notion that if an idea pops into his head, he feels free to write it into his script under the Cole Porter Rule ("Anything Goes"). Knowing my history with Gilliam, who I always want to like more than I do, I attended the Cannes screening of "Doctor Parnassus" to be baffled, which I was, and then the Chicago press screening, where I had an idea what was coming and tried to reopen my mind. Gilliam is, you understand, a nice man, and has never committed the sin of failing to amaze.

Now what I see are a group of experienced actors gamely trying to keep their heads while all about are losing theirs. Can it be easy to play one-third of a guide to one-third of an arbitrary world? You just have to plunge in. Ledger himself, who makes Tony relatively grounded in the "real" world, must have been prepared to do the same and would have lent the story more continuity. Still, this is an Imaginarium indeed. The best approach is to sit there and let it happen to you; see it in the moment and not with long-term memory, which seems to be what Parnassus does. It keeps his mind off Satan's plans for his daughter.
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-12 10:28 pm (UTC)
So obviously, I am still excited and enthusiastic about this film, two hours after getting home. Looking for other people's thoughts, I realize that not everybody got into it like I have. At least one other viewer did, though - Roger Ebert!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

More GOOD content (that isn't just "Gilliam should avoid CGI" or "Gilliam being surreal is as tired as Tim Burton giving Johnny Depp stupid haircuts," ugh, really people?) at http://imaginariumofdrparnassus.com/blog/!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I just spammed a few blogs that had actual interesting things to say about the film. Hello, people I spammed! Welcome!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There's a Tom Waits song in 12 Monkeys, says IMDB! How did I miss that? You know how I feel about 12 Monkeys. And Tom Waits.
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-12 10:31 pm (UTC)
From http://blog.boxofficespy.com/2010/01/imaginarium-of-doctor-parnassus-box.html:

"For over a year now, there has been quite a significant amount buzz for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the movie that stars the late Heath Ledger, yet almost no one has seen the movie, and it never really had an official release date.

"This is mainly due to the fact that director Terry Gilliam had some trouble finding a studio that would distribute his film properly in the United States. Lionsgate had already agreed to distribute the film in some international territories, where it was expected to perform better. There has also been also been a significant amount of interest as to the box office gross that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus could experience, but no one had any idea as to the kind of gross it might have, that is until now.

It was eventually picked up by Sony in August of 2009, officially obtaining the rights to distribute the movie across North America, under its Sony Classics title. Four months later on December 25, 2009, Sony released The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus to theaters in the U.S., four theaters to be exact, a completely and absolute limited release.


"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus now has a worldwide box office total of $34-36 million, this from a worldwide limited release, with an expected weekly expansion.

"Even though at the moment the numbers are not massive, they are actually quite good because the movie reportedly only cost $30 million to produce, which is an incredibly modest budget, especially since the visuals in the movie are quite amazing."


"Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law all play Heath Ledger's character, and all of them donated their acting fee in honor of Heath."
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[User Picture]From: autumnraina
2010-01-12 11:08 pm (UTC)
Wooo! I just saw this movie last weekend with my husband. I LOVED it!! And this is extra special because I go to maybe 1 movie a year these days. Thanks for all the links, reviews, and enthusiasm. Feel free to gush more. :)
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-12 11:11 pm (UTC)

Someone who understands!!

THANK GOODNESS! I was starting to wonder if Roger Ebert and I were the only ones who liked it! And I think I will gush a bit more, thanks. :^)
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[User Picture]From: mrputter
2010-01-12 11:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

I saw it, um, about 2 weeks ago? Right before New Years, anyway. And really liked it. I thought it was one of the best movies from (an admittedly pretty dismal) 2009.

I haven't yet bothered trying to do any deconstruction, being happy just to enjoy it on a purely visceral level. Mebbe I'll give it some thought and come back here.

Quick thoughts in the meantime:
+ absolutely loved the demonic Tom Waits
+ was tickled pink that "Rain on 5th" is the Vancouver Public Library
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-12 11:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

"Rain on 5th" is the Vancouver Public Library
Whoa! Interesting!

I'm struggling to understand who and what Tony is. I missed the first couple of minutes of the film because the concession stand gave us diet sodas instead of regular ones. When I came in, he was going, "Nice tits." (That was him, right? Cuz I'm kinda bad with faces.) So if you have any insight into who and what Tony is, fill me in!
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[User Picture]From: autumnraina
2010-01-12 11:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

Wait, no. I don't think that was Tony who said "Nice tits." The very first scene of the movie shows the horse-drawn side show opening up directly in front of the exit at a bar or concert or something. Two couples exit, obviously inebriated, and stare at the Imaginarium. One of the guys gets up on the stage and starts harassing Anton and Val. To escape his assault, Val goes through the mirror and the drunk follows her.

Tony doesn't show up until later when Anton and the dwarf rescue him from hanging at the bridge.
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-12 11:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

Ah, thanks! I guess I thought it was Tony because that guy's face changed (I think) and because of the huge stairs, and because when Tony is wearing the mask at the "homebase" store (any significance of that name?) he says "Nice ___" (I forget what).

Facial blindness makes it hard for me to get movies sometimes!
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[User Picture]From: autumnraina
2010-01-12 11:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

As for who or what Tony is, he's the "Hanged Man" from the tarot deck, but I don't know much about tarot, so that doesn't mean anything to me. And he had some symbols on his head, maybe those symbols also mean something? Even Mr. Nick was trying to figure that part out . . . :)
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-12 11:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

Yeah, the symbols really confused me, but one was a phi, I think, and one was the pyramid eye? The pyramid eye was definitely on the Imaginarium carriage, but was the phi also? At the time, I was thinking it was.

I don't know about tarot, either. I'll explore that...
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[User Picture]From: mrputter
2010-01-13 12:06 am (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

> who and what Tony is

I'm not sure I understand the question.

(SPOILERS? But meh; I think this thread is already past the point of that warning.)

- As a character (within the constraints of the plot), Tony is a disgraced etc. etc. etc. that they rescued from the bridge after he tried to hang himself.
- As a plot device, Tony is a test posed to the good Dr.'s ensemble, to make Mr. Nick's wager interesting to the audience
- As a metaphor, Tony is (maybe?) a personification of the mirror. If the mirror is an inanimate object that allows the regarder to examine their internal struggles and contradictions, then Tony is an anthropomorphic version of the same. A "human mirror," if you will.

I'm not sure exactly where you came into the movie. To the extent that I remember the "nice tits" comment (which I don't particularly), I thought it was after Tony was just waking up. But then that's a good 20 minutes or more into the movie, and would mean that you would have already missed the segment where they rescued him from the bridge -- a segment that your earlier comments seem to indicate you did in fact see.

Either way, the first couple (2-3) minutes of the movie are fairly devoid of important (plot-related) info. Mostly just "scene-setting" stuff: Dr. & co. set up outside of a bar on a gloomy London night, are having trouble attracting viewers. Some drunken louts spill out of the bar onto the sidewalk, one notices said "& co." and thinks it would be funny to take the piss. Gets up on stage, starts chasing Valentina around (hmmm... is this where the "nice tits" comment came? In which case, I was totally not aware that the aforementioned lout was supposed to be Tony. But I too am horrible with faces); she ducks into the mirror, he follows. After a fantastical and boozy daymare, he makes the "wrong" choice and is captured by he-who-turns-out-to-be Mr. Nick. Outside the mirror, this causes the Dr. some non-trivial gastrointestinal distress. He realizes what has happened, chews out Valentina for going into the mirror. The cops come to investigate the ruckus, the carriage packs up in a rush and takes off.


Hopefully you came in somewhere in there; in which case I, again, don't think you missed too much.
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-13 12:13 am (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

The "nice tits" came from the drunken lout who chased Val into the mirror. That's where I came in. I spent the next few minutes confused, because when I came in, either dubaiwalla or antivert said they were in London, 100 years ago. At least, that's what I heard. Then there are carousel rides that made me realize it was present day, so I thought Percy and Anton and Val were also immortal, and it took me until she said she'd be "twelve" to realize she wasn't.

OH! The Hanged Man is XII.

And the first wager was who could get twelve disciples first! Any other appearances by the number 12?

And it says the Hanged Man is both the Traitor and the Martyr.

Edited at 2010-01-13 12:14 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-13 12:17 am (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

(besides the number of Monkeys in another film, hee)
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[User Picture]From: mrputter
2010-01-13 12:24 am (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

> aid they were in London, 100 years ago.

Ahhh. Yes. At first, it was not clear whether the setting was contemporary or historical. I think this was deliberate. The story is (to some extent) intended to be timeless; to exist outside of any specific setting. The opening subtitle just said (I think) "London." The visuals were (or seemed) deliberately antiquarian, and I too was under the initial misapprehension that it was set ~100 years ago, only to be divested of the delusion at about the same point that you were.

> the Hanged Man is both the Traitor and the Martyr


And of course, the original 12th disciple was Judah. Don't have to reach hard to see a metaphor or three there...
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-13 12:59 am (UTC)

Someone who is trying to understand

a metaphor or three
My thoughts exactly. Speaking of threes...

(Triangle man, triangle man...)

Parnassus looks like a sadhu (at times), a Buddha (at times), and The Guy With The Beard (pretty much all the time, even when he looks like the other figures). Mainstream religion. With a beard. ;)

We know Nick is the foil to The Guy With The Beard. Mainstream dark side.

Now, Nick doesn't like Tony any more than Parnassus does. And I never read anything about the tarot until now, but the above Wikipedia article associates The Hanged Man with Odin, goddess cults, and Roman and Egyptian mythology (Tony and Val commingle in a boat shaped like an Anubis).

So we have the mainstream good-and-evil dichotomy making up (a disproportionate?) 2/3 of the equation, with the remaining edge of the triangle representing a whole mess of marginalized cults, sects, and mythologies - pagan and otherwise. Fitting for a guy on a tarot card.

So I'm becoming more and more convinced that Tony is closer to the immortals than to the other earthly characters, even though Nick and Parnassus have been acquainted for thousands of years without getting too tangled up in the occult stuff. (Of course, my Lord figure in this analysis is a former monk turned fallen angel turned guru, which muddles things.)

What was the other symbol on Tony's head??? I found a couple of blurry pictures in Google, but the third symbol looks blurred. Maybe it's supposed to be?

Edited at 2010-01-13 01:00 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-13 02:03 am (UTC)

Is it a Theta? A Beta? An "8?" Something else? A smudge??


"The biblical Jacob had 12 sons, who were the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel..."

"Jacob experienced a vision of a ladder or staircase reaching into heaven with angels going up and down it, commonly referred to as 'Jacob's ladder.'"

Edited at 2010-01-13 02:05 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-13 02:38 am (UTC)

Re: Someone who is trying to understand

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[User Picture]From: chu_hi
2010-01-13 12:19 am (UTC)

Re: Someone who understands!!

A "human mirror," if you will.
I like this. IMDB said one error was Tony saying "Don't trust The Sun" when it was actually The Daily Mail. I heard him say "don't trust The Mirror." (And I also thought the paper was The Times, but I'm less sure of that.)
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[User Picture]From: rodney_mctaco
2010-01-13 01:15 pm (UTC)

Me Next!

A Modest Deconsruction of the Motion Picture Entitled The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Charitably Undertaken by an Undereducated Former Citizen of the Ghetto for the Sake of Other Such Citizens of Aforementioned Educational Background and Socioeconomic Descent

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