tor’s mirror, which contains a fantasy world where they are given a choice between the hard, narrow path to righteousness and the easy, broad road to damnation. Despite the doc’s best efforts, in this day and age, it’s difficult to find individuals both willing and capable of reaching enlightenment.
Then Mr. Nick (always-welcome singer Tom Waits) shows up. Over the centuries, Parnassus and Mr. Nick have bet against each other in the friendly-but-antagonistic way that two bored immortals might to pass the time. Mr. Nick has come to claim Valentina, who is to become his in three days, at the moment she turns 16. Without recourse to put off the devil, Parnassus ups his alcohol consumption.
They find Tony (Ledger) under a bridge, hanging by his neck. He is somehow alive, although he can’t remember who he is or why he was hanged. In the meantime, Mr. Nick offers Parnassus the opportunity to save Valentina in the form of a bet: If he can claim five souls first, Mr. Nick will let her off the hook.
Tony, who is charming with the ladies, helps draw more customers than Parnassus has had in years, and it looks as if they will win the bet. But inevitably, things go wrong and become progressively tenuous as Tony’s past catches up with him.
To make up for Ledger’s absence, Gilliam came up with a fairly clever solution. Whenever Tony enters the imaginarium, he becomes someone else. Ostensibly, this is because those he accompanies inside see him the way they want to, which kind of works if you’re in a forgiving mood. During his first visit, he’s played by Johnny Depp (“Public Enemies“). Another time, Jude Law (“Sherlock Holmes“). In his final and longest incarnation, Colin Farrell (“In Bruges“), as he and Valentina drift along her mind’s placid river.
While the plot itself is solid enough, the interaction between characters suffers from the way Gilliam had to patch things together with the available Ledger footage. One gets the feeling certain threads were originally meant to go a different way, or that the whole thing was taken apart and rearranged.
The quieter scenes in which Tony bonds with Valentina and Anton feel random, as if there was supposed to be more connective tissue to hold the relationships together. What’s worse is that one gets the sense Ledger’s performance doesn’t quite line up with what Tony is supposed to want, as if he had an entirely different set of character goals in mind when he shot his scenes.
That being said, “Parnassus” is still worthwhile. Visually, the imaginarium is as gorgeous and colorful as London is drab and monochrome, and the cast as a whole was well chosen. Plummer is especially strong as the movie’s anchor, and Cole, who has only a few roles under her belt, manages to combine character depth with physical beauty.
Overall, the whole thing is a bit sad. Not only is this Ledger’s last picture show, but one gets the sense that if Gilliam made a movie this good despite its problems, it may have been a truly great one, if things had gone as planned. “Mike Robertson