We saw The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus last night, and there's no doubt it's a Terry Gilliam film: shattering landscapes, floating hands, and nods to Bodicelli's venus are sure signs that something from that particular mind has made its way to your eyeballs.
It's certainly the most visually stunning film Gilliam's done: the fantasies from Brazil and the storytelling of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen merely hint at what's behind the good doctor's mirror here. And not only is the scenery fabulous, but we've got a stellar cast to chew on it: Christopher Plummer as the doctor, Lily Cole as Valentina (who bears more than a little resemblence to the 9-year-old Sarah Polley of Munchausen), Verne Troyer in a role that should help people think of him as more than just Mini-Me, and especially Tom Waits as Mr. Nick: a devil not so much interested in turning people to evil as the game itself. Did I forget somebody? Heath Ledger you say? It's nice to have a last performance, but it's no Joker. His character is something of a cypher through much of the movie: how much does he remember, how much does he want to forget? Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell do a good job as Fake Shemps, but I would have really liked to have seen what happens when Ledger himself steps behind the mirror.
The core of the movie is all about the wagers between Parnassus and Mr. Nick -- I've never seen Waits having so much fun on screen, even as Renfield in Coppola's Dracula. But it's also the weakest part. What exactly is the bet, the choice that each soul must make? It's really not clear. It's not really good versus evil, it's something more like imagination versus base instincts. There was one mumbled line about it early on, and I'd really like another go at the movie to hear it again. But the choices people make behind the mirror, especially Ledger/Farrell's Tony, are kind of vague.
There's also an interesting twist: the typical "Devil Take Your Soul" plot is a putting off of a eternal torment for a little pleasure now. The Doctor's mirror seems to give that immediate pleasure to those who choose "good" while the sinners get their hell instantly.
Trying to figure out the morals of a filmmaker from his visions is probably a fruitless task anyway. The movie isn't about the choices of good and evil -- it's the playing of games, the quest for immortality and the eternal chance to return from dereliction. It's a fantastic ride, don't miss it.