Heath and his Last Hurrah: “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”


Heath Ledger’s last role was little discussed in the media except for the fact that it was his last movie, not how touching and awesome he was in it. I instead want to pay tribute to the fantastic part Ledger played in it along with the help of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.

The truth of this movie, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”  is that it’s not your normal movie. At times it does seem pretty, but if you’ve watched Gilliam’s previous work or even Burton’s work (which I view as  trippy and am far more familiar with) it didn’t seem to0 far of a stretch.

The common misconception is that Dr. Parnassus is Heath Ledger. In fact that is not him, that part is played by the wonderful Christopher Plummer. Dr. Parnassus is over  1,000 years old, making constant deals with the devil. Parnassus gets souls to the devil by making people go through his special mirror and in return he gets to live a little longer.

Heath Ledger’s character on the other hand is Tony. Tony is found and saved by Parnassus’ daughter Valentina and fellow members of their theater troupe, Anton and Percy. The whole theater troupe is one big family that depends on one another. The audience comes to learn that Valentina is Parnassus’ daughter, Percy is Parnassus’ best friend and Anton is in love with Valentina, I really don’t know how he got involved. Ledger’s character appears to be hanged but in reality is alive. He saved his own life by swallowing a small whistle that blocks his air passage.

Tony has no memory of who he is until later in the film when Paranssus’ does magic on him and also by reading the newspaper on one of their travels. It turns out that Tony was in a money scandal with a children’s charity he was the head of.

Gilliam does a fantastic job with using the footage of Heath that was completed before he died and included Depp, Law and Farrell as his different personas as he travels through the mirror or “the imaginiarum” or “the mind” of Dr. Parnassus. I think Depp, Law and Farrell did an awesome job in finishing the job in his memory, but also giving the film a new twist.. I wonder if Gilliam still had had Ledger for the whole production, what kind of makeup and costumes he would have used to transform Ledgers appearance. It’s a thrill as you and Ledger at the same time try to figure out who he has transformed into. At first the character of Tony doesn’t realize this and is perplexed; Anton, a worker of Dr. Parnassus, however is not. He sees who Tony for who he really is: a liar. A two faced, three faced man.

If you skim the film’s surface, you might just see it as a whacked pathetic sideshow, but if stick your hand below the surface the characters become so complex and utterly tragic that you feel for them and want to see what happens.

For Heath, it was a bittersweet end to his short but wonderful acting career. I might even like this better than “The Dark Knight” because we got to see the flawed character beyond the makeup.

P.S.: Watch this movie especially for the ending. I’m not gonna ruin it, but it ties the movie nicely together.

Oscar Nominations:

1. Best Achievement in Art Direction: David Warren, Anastasia Masaro, Caroline Smith

2. Best Achievement in Costume Design: Monique Prudhomme


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