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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

September 12, 2009 at 2:24 PM

At TIFF: “A film from Heath Ledger & friends”

Those are the rather touching final on-screen words of Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” a fantastical rollercoaster of a film that’s primarily going to be of interest to Gilliam fans and Ledger completists. Set in contemporary London and many imaginative worlds beyond, it’s the tale of a Victorian-style showman (Christopher Plummer, commanding as always), his pact with a devil-like fellow with a pencil mustache (Tom Waits), and the young man the troupe rescues who then helps them with their quest. This character, Tony, is played by Ledger for perhaps two-thirds of the film; when the actor died before the filming was finished, Gilliam found a creative way to complete it with three other actors in the role: Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, all playing the character as slightly transformed.
Whether any of it makes sense is an open question, but those who loved Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm” and other fantasies will find much to enjoy; the rest of us will just enjoy the performances and let the slapdash and sometimes wildly out-of-control storytelling zoom right by. Depp (especially), Law and Farrell dive into their role with great ferver; Ledger’s final screen performance is one of real sweetness, as he tries on a Cockney accent for size. And there’s a moment (perhaps added late in the process?) that’ll give all viewers a sad pause: A character, watching an array of boats decked with flowers and the photographs of famous folk who died before their time — Princess Diana, James Dean — notes that they are immortal. “They will be forever young.”

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