The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

24 05 2010

“This world we live in is full of enchantment for those with eyes to see it.”

That is a quote from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Terry Gilliam’s tenth film as sole director. It is also the thematic thread that ties all his work together, from the childhood fantasy of Time Bandits (1981) to the supernatural wonderland of The Brothers Grimm (2005). For over 30 years, Gilliam has been bringing old-fashioned magic to the screen, despite audiences becoming increasingly cynical and jaded over that time.

If the veteran storyteller was once Sam Lowry, battling a faceless system in order to keep his dreams alive, he’s now Doctor Parnassus (Christoher Plummer), an aging showman whose magic mirror fails to spark the interest of a public captivated instead by the bright, shiny objects of consumerism. And yet he persists because he must—it’s too depressing to think that most people will choose cheap thrills over the power of the imagination, given the choice.

In the film this is depicted via a series of bets between Parnassus and Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), each vying for the chance to win human souls. Parnassus’ Imaginarium offers anyone who steps into his mirror a choice between the rewarding challenges of their higher purpose in life versus the baser delights of ol’ Nick himself. For an alcoholic, this is the choice between a “12 x 12 x 12 step program” on the one hand and a lounge bar on the other, and for each person who enters the Imaginarium, the choice is just as personal.

And so Parnassus travels through the streets of London with his accompanying show and troupe, hoping to prove himself right—that people, at heart, want imagination and magic—despite all evidence to the contrary.
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

30 01 2008

The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetI was probably about four years old when my grandfather first told me the legend of Sweeney Todd, the crazed barber who slit his patrons’ throats before having their flesh baked into delicious meat pies. The tale, while more than likely apocryphal, touches on several fears close to most people’s hearts, not the least of which is unwittingly eating a fellow human being (and worse still, actually enjoying it).

Todd’s story was adapted countless times over the last couple of centuries, but the most notable in recent times was the 1979 Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, itself based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond. The play and musical added greater depth to the story by transforming it into a macabre tale of tragedy and revenge, and now director Tim Burton has adapted the musical into a Hollywood film.

Sweeney Todd (Burton-favourite Johnny Depp) was once Benjamin Barker, a meek and mild barber living in London with a beautiful wife and child. But when the slimy Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) coverts Barker’s wife, he frames the barber and has him transported to Australia; now, 15 years later, Barker returns to London as Todd, a man devoured by thoughts of revenge.
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