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The World is a Stage: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus wraps a real-life puzzle in a universal enigma 

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Although this movie will be spoken of generally as "the one Heath Ledger was making when he died," the latest work from the director of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam, is not exactly a Heath Ledger movie. He's hardly in it. And while it's natural to eagerly await the scenes in which he appears - as attractive and talented as he was - to do so while watching The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus would be a waste.

If you want some pure, unadulterated Heath Ledger, watch Brokeback Mountain or I'm Not There. Equally, do not expect to see much of the three actors who stepped in for Ledger: Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, as their scenes amount to about 20 minutes. Instead, go see this one because it's made by an interesting writer-director whose mix of substance and style is consistently daring and thought provoking.

This is the problem with stars; they can be a real distraction from the actual matter of a movie. It can be hard to forget about the actor - their personality, past, romances and stints in rehab - and concentrate on the character. Tom Cruise for example is never a sports agent, magazine publisher or Nazi, he's just Tom Cruise playing make-believe.

When watching The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, it's a struggle to get past thoughts of Ledger and his death, and particularly difficult to process the surprising way in which his character develops. Ledger has a small share of the screen time, but more importantly, we watch with a need to see and understand as a real human being. By doing so we try to fathom the mystery of his death, as well as death as a whole.

This film really centers on the relationship between young Valentina and her father, the mystical monk Dr. Parnassus, played by British model Lily Cole and Christopher Plummer, respectively. Parnassus makes a deal with the devil for immortality - the bargain being that his child will be turned over to the dark side at 16 years old. The film also showcases the talents of newcomer Andrew Garfield as Anton, a performer in Parnassus' traveling theater who is in love with Valentina.

Terry Gilliam creates striking scenes that juxtapose the strange world of Parnassus with modern day London, and packs the screen to the brim with beautiful costumes, psychedelic animation and intricate set pieces. He underlines these images with thoughtful philosophizing on his own renegade career and his own dire view of today's world. He touches on subjects, moving quickly. Never didactic, Gilliam keeps the conversation open and in doing so manages to make the universal feel personal. If you watch it right, you'll be mulling it over for days.


The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus


Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Heath Ledger. Rated PG-13


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