There is a reason human beings cannot see into each other's minds. It is not just that it's impossible or a violation of privacy, but simply that the human psyche is one thoroughly bizarre place.
It makes sense, then, that a movie about people's imaginations would be a complete bug-out. Yet, despite (or perhaps because of), its indulgent strangeness and miniscule budget, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is an oddly engaging experience and a suitable last hurrah to the late Heath Ledger.
The film follows the unsuccessful performance wagon run by Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). A man who was a monk before winning a bet against the devil, Parnassus is granted immortality and the power to bring the world of people's imaginations to life. With this power, the doctor, along with his trio of misfits, journeys across England and invites onlookers to explore their own minds.
Unfortunately, all is not well with the imaginarium. To rectify an old bargain, Parnassus finds himself in competition with the devil (who's a bit of a stalker). Who, in three days, will be the first to lure five souls to him: the devil, with his earthly delights, or Parnassus, with the pure light of imagination?
The soul of Parnassus' young daughter, Valentina, is on the line and with the addition of a mysterious young man (played by Heath Ledger as well as Johnny Depp, Colin Firth and Jude Law) to the troupe, these three days may be everyone's last.
At least that's the gist of what happens, but I wouldn't bet a sandwich, let alone my soul, on how understandable the plot actually is. The movie does not take great pains to fill its audience in on its inner workings.
Confusing as the story can be, though, the whole spectacle is engrossing. With graphics reminiscent of the '80s (honestly, it's like watching Beetlejuice), the visuals are both anachronistic in the age of Avatar and strangely refreshing.
The characters, meanwhile, are a treat. While not particularly well-explained, they are amusing to watch and solidly performed. It is only with a plot this weird that a rewrite in response to the death of its star could actually add to a character's presentation.
This movie won't replace The Dark Knight as Ledger's swan song, but it's an interesting display; too good for a C-grade spoof, but too off-kilter for the mainstream, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, with all its humor and peculiarities, is a cult phenomenon in the making.