SDCC: Terry Gilliam Presents The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


A chipper Terry Gilliam greeted an enthusiastic crowd at the San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday with clips from his latest film – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – in tow. The film has gained more notoriety than more recent Gilliam films due to it containing the last performance of the late Heath Ledger. However Gilliam wanted attendees to know that the story of the movie doesn’t revolve around Heath’s character, Tony, rather the good doctor himself. The panel opened with a brief video retrospective of Gilliam’s career up to the new movie. Entitled ‘Behind the Mirror,’ the piece included scenes from the new film including the first glimpse at all four Tony’s – Ledger, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law – the latter trio stepping in after Heath’s death.

Gilliam told the audience that he planned to show only the ‘boring bits’ of the movie at the Con so that when they went to the theater and spent their hard earned money, they would get their money’s worth!

Before launching into the clips from the movie, Comic-Con staffers presented Gilliam with the Con’s own Inkpot Award for Achievement in Film Arts, which Gilliam joked, due to its sharp metal protrusions, would likely be taken away from him at the airport.

The first clip shown was from the beginning of the film and involved Parnassus in his days as a monk. He is first shown in the present day, riding in the Imaginarium wagon and speaking to his 15-year old daughter Valentina (played by Lily Cole). He tells her of his meeting that day with a person no one ever wants to meet and of a deal he should have never made – exchanging his daughter, once 16, for immortality.

The scene cuts to a hooded rider navigating a snow-swept mountain ridge on horseback approaching Parnassus’ monastery. Ironically, Parnassus is telling his monks a story that is eerily similar to what is actually occurring. The door to the monastery open and in walks the masked rider. The monks, who sat surrounding Parnassus, were pushed back by the force of the masked one’s entry. The man enters and unmasks to reveal a pencil-mustached, white-headed Mr. Nick (Tom Waits).

After the clip, Gilliam explains to the crowd that the Imaginarium offers up completely different worlds to those that pass through the mirror. The doctor is a man that travels around trying to get people to let their imaginations blossom – a notion he suggests is autobiographical. The idea for Parnassus sprang from that notion and via his first collaboration in over two decades with “Baron Munchausen” co-writer Charles McKeown. The pair knew they wanted a Faustian bargain in the story – a man with a daughter who made a terrible wager with the Devil himself.

The second clip shown featured a mask-wearing Tony (Ledger) attempting to woo ladies on the streets of London into giving the Imaginarium a go. Gilliam described Tony as chameleon, a silver-tongue slickster who believes in his own babble. Tony – in full carnival-barker mode – lures the socialites to ‘put a price on their dreams.’

Verne Troyer joined Gilliam on stage and was thankful to the director for allowing him to play a more serious role. Gilliam said he loved the diminutive Troyer’s spirit as an actor.

The last clip shown was a full on head-trip and the first trip shown of a journey through the mirror and into the Imaginarium. Parnassus’ daughter – looking like Marie Antoinette – dashes in to the mirror and is follow by a drunkard. The scene inside the mirror looks like a theater production with large cutouts of trees doubling as a forest. He finds Valentina who then proceeds to give him a few good socks on the nose. Enraged, the drunk follows her while spewing threats. In pursuit, he falls face first into the mud. As he laments his ‘gorgeous face’ the scene cuts back to outside the mirror where the police have arrived and a women is restrained from approaching Parnassus. Back in the mirror, our drunk now finds himself wading knee-deep in empty liquor bottles that seem to fall periodically from the sky. Just as frustration sets in, a creature – looking a lot like a disembodied, green hand swoops in and grabs him up, up, up into the sky which is filled with giant jellyfish – all the while speaking to him in some alien tongue. The creature soon drops him and he tumbles back to the ground landing very near a giant thumbtack that is pointing up.

Gilliam closed the panel with a specially cut trailer for the Con. Included were bits of scene shown previously, but more of Waits as Mr. Nick including the ominous question to Parnassus – “You’re probably not a betting man are you?”

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus opens in October.