The Retrospective

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“I Don’t Suppose You’re a betting Man?” Terry Gilliam’s Latest Debuts in Madrid

November 24th, 2009 by

the imaginarium of doctor parnassusSony Pictures Classic ©2009

There are many reasons to feel lucky for calling a city like Madrid home: delightful weather, more (free!) cultural events than you can shake a stick at, alcoholic beverages that cost less than a bottle of water, and good, good coffee in virtually every café. Recently, I was given one more reason to love this city: movies. Though its mother tongue may be English, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus— the latest from director Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame–made its chaotic, splendid debut here in the land of jamón (Iberian ham) and Dalí.


Parnassus is a modern-day morality tale chronicling a man’s race to save his first-born from the clutches of a gravelly-voiced, ineffably cool devil, Mr. Tom Waits. How to save the beautiful Valentina, the daughter that Parnassus consigned in return for immortality? Acquire souls, of course! The plot unfolds around wager after wager between the Devil, (Waits), and Parnassus, (Christopher Plummer), for human souls. A wizened, weakening and rather rum-soked Parnassus is aided by the loyal Anton and the probably-too-good-to-be-true Tony, (played by the talented Heath Ledger, Colin Farrell, Jude Law and Johnny Depp), both men hoping to win Valentina’s hand in marriage (or at least a warm, naked spot next to her in the wagon).

the imainarium of doctor parnassusSony Pictures Classic ©2009

All of that said, the plot is actually very secondary to great acting and fantastic(al) settings. The latter have a definite Monty Python flavor, but happily lack nothing in innovation, boasting Narnia-like glens, lollipop lands, seedy motels and humanoid hot air balloons. I spent two spellbound hours with my hand in a bucket of popcorn, nudging the Italian roommate with whom I’d gone. Both he (a discerning gentleman who’s lived in more than twenty countries and seen his fair share of films) and I loved every second. Parnassus, of course, is not for everyone, and the madrileños have received it with some uncertainty. A friend who attended a separate showing reported that within ten minutes, half of the audience had made a grumbling beeline for the door. This, I say, is sacrilege.

If you’re a lover of the delightfully weird, if you’ve always wanted to know just what Tom Waits is building in there, if you’ve ever wanted to play Spot The Looney or if you’d just enjoy gazing upon some of the studliest of young men in Hollywood, hustle to theaters in New York or LA before the Imaginarium rolls on by. I’d be willing to make a bet with the devil that you’ll enjoy it.

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