Quickie movie filler.. :)
So - I don't often make it to the movies these days, but last night we had a last-minute invite to join friends at a showing of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
How was it? Well... that's complicated.
The acting was very well done.. a couple spots read "theater geeks playing with each other" - but within the context of the tale even that made sense. It is as much as anything I think a film by theater geeks for theater geeks.
Visually, I loved it. The costume design was first rate - the "real world" sections had that lush quasi-Romantic era look that I can best describe as "Urban Fantasy" - not unlike those done for the old Beauty and the Beast series set in New York... but brighter and more full of life. The 1910's era "gypsy wagon" of the troupe held a mystical atmosphere that was just beautiful.
As to the fantasy scenes... think Mirrormask or Michael Parkes paintings... beautiful, surreal, and often a little disturbing. Not quite Pan's Labyrinth disturbing most of the time, but still not something I'd be taking little ones to.
The script itself was fairly scattered. The feel is that the notes were all in place, but it wasn't edited into a coherent whole particularly well.
Which leads me to the plot. It left me uneasy from the time I walked out of the theater, and it took me a while thinking on it to tack down what was bothering me.
Quite frankly, I can't think of any way to describe it but "theologically broken." The currency of the contest we see is the choice of souls in this dreamworld... the old idea of souls choosing between God and the Devil. Except God has been written out of the story*, leaving the choice between the Devil's base temptations and..... some nebulous higher order pleasure of creativity. And even that much isn't spelled out in the film itself, but has to be gleaned from production notes -
The result is that while it's beautifully lush, the whole core conceit of the contest at the heart of the play falls flat.**
So.. all in all. Would I recommend it?
Honestly, no. The acting, the scenery, the costuming, the computer work - all is beautiful. The storytelling though fails. And when the film itself is at its heart about storytelling... I don't think it meets the goals it sets for itself.
It just doesn't go anywhere that others haven't already covered better... I'd say Pan's Labyrinth for the creepy side or Stardust for the beautiful, sweet side. (The latter particularly... Stardust is this generation's Princess Bride.... not something to be said lightly)
* One throwaway scene in particular will likely irk the Christians in the audience something fierce. While it could be an intentional dig, I'm more inclined to believe it's simple new-agey naivete. It's the expository scene with the storybook - you'll know what it is when you see it.
** this isn't to say that I expect a film to get all deep into theology or moral explorations - or even if it does, to be as doctrinaire Christian as the Narnia mythos. A film that promises just fun and eyecandy and delivers just that can still be an amazing piece of craftsmanship in its own right. A story can soulfully delve deep into morality and spiritual strength without once mentioning the Divine. But here, the dramatic effect seems like nothing so much as someone sitting down to a great workbench of tools.... and not knowing quite what to do with them.