The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: *** (out of 4)
(Going in, I should note that I really, really don't want to offer spoilers on this movie. What made the movie fun for me was a) the art and b) the lack of fore-knowledge of the plot and characters. While I can wax ecstatic about the former with relative safety, the latter requires more discipline than usual. As such, I don't intend to refer to anything even close to the plot itself. I might touch on the characters, or perhaps some themes.)
For all of the positive ways that I can describe my nuclear family, "artistic" is not one of them. On my father's side, all of that family artistic skill ended up with my Uncle Bil. I grew up with his art on my home's walls, from portraits to sketches to photo-realistic still-life (a few of which I got to take with me to my current home). Most influential were the video games - he worked for Sierra On-Line for much of its glory days, and did background art for the King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry series, amongst others. But once that phase was over, he went back to his painting. His style has changed over the years, sometimes more traditional and sometimes more trippy, but it's always been recognizably his, and I've always been fond and proud of it.
My Uncle Bil also reminds me of Terry Gilliam.
Certainly, part of this is the physical resemblance. My Uncle's hair and beard are a bit more red, but past that... well, when I watched the last Monty Python special, the similarities were striking. This coincidence encouraged me to contrast their visual styles, and somehow, I began to see some similarities. The artistic subjects, the broad light-vs-dark motifs, the massive enjoyment of the female form - they matched up, at least a bit. Perhaps none of this would get past an art student's critical eye, but it's enough for me. And besides, I've been enjoying Gilliam's art since I was a kid too.
But The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus did something I didn't expect. Through its story of a man whose art has been left behind by the world, it encouraged me to look past the art and into the artist. This was essentially a meta-auto-biography, and not a fully flattering one.
Without getting into specifics, the movie told the story of the difficulty Gilliam had in getting his film made (well, closer to The Man Who Killed Don Quixote than Parnassus, really). Part of this was that the world has moved on from his style (I miss you, Monty Python!). But more worrisome was how the world kept on throwing up obstacles to hide the art away, most prominently through the death of Heath Ledger. But his perseverance eventually got the work out there, wars and all, and into an unforgiving, unappreciative world.
And yet, it was beautiful nonetheless.
The characters were, perhaps, sketches. The designs may have less satisfying in CGI than they would have been in his signature paper cut-out style of yore. The ending may have been ambiguous. And, overall, the compromises that had to be made to get the movie out in the first place may have been more apparent then I really wanted them to be. But nevertheless, this was a strong movie, made by a talented man that, while he may have slowed down over the decades, is as singular and artistic as ever. And just as I respect that in my Uncle, I respect that in Gilliam.