Terry Gilliam Lets Us Inside His Demented Cartoon Vision

Illustration for article titled Terry Gilliam Lets Us Inside His Demented Cartoon Vision

Twelve Monkeys and Brazil director Terry Gilliam showed Comic Con some new footage from The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, Heath Ledger's last film, which Gilliam calls "a compendium of all the things I used to be good at." Spoilers below...


Here are the clips he showed:

Parnassus and the Devil

The first part of this scene between Dr. Parnassus and his daughter Valentina is here:

But the scene goes on from there. As the bird flies back down inside the monastery, we see a giant statue representing the world: a disc resting on the back of a turtle, resting on the backs of four elephants. Monks sit below the statue in fanciful Himalayan-inspired monk garb: saffron robes and tall pointed hats. Parnassus, the chief steward of these monks, sits apart from them in heavy eyeliner.

Parnassus continues to explain that the chief steward, after performing his task of keeping the world spinning on its axis, had a dream that a dark rider came and visited him. The heavy front door to the monastery opens and we see the masked rider outside — only now he is revealed as Tom Waits' Devil, riding mask in hand and a bowler hat on his head, ready with a genial greeting.

Your dreams:

Here's the whole thing:


Weird voyage:

A man is standing in front of the Imaginarium's faux mirror. Parnassus' daughter Valentina, wearing a dress and a white wig, comes out of the mirror, then back in, and the man follows her into the Imaginarium.


They are transported to a forest of fake trees, the sort of flat, painted set pieces you might see in a play. The man lustily chases Valentina — whose hair has become the wig and whose dress is transformed into something fancier and more fitted — as she runs away giggling. But when he finally catches up with her, she rewards him not with a kiss but with a punch in the face, and she dashes off giggling again. He falls face first into the mud, crying, "Come back, you bitch."

He starts to get up, but he catches his reflection in a puddle of water. The face staring back is now a different face. He becomes frightened, first shouting, "My face!" and then "Is anyone there."


Suddenly, we hear a horrible shrieking and an oversized green hand attached to a rope seizes the man and drags him up into the sky. The green hand has no body, but a tiny head with a mop of red hair where the elbow should be. It continues to shriek as it pulls the man up, up into a sky populated by gently pulsing jellyfish. The man begs the hand to release him. It complies, and of course he plummets to the ground.

We suddenly cut to a giant tack that is sitting on red sand prong-up, and we're obviously meant to fear that he'll be skewered when he lands. But instead, he merely falls into the bowl and, when he realizes he's safe, breathes a sigh of relief.


After showing those clips, Gilliam went upstairs for a chat with a handful of reporters, including us. He praised Ledger's deft, multi-layered performance, which laid down tons of clues for the actors who replaced him in the fantasy sequences: Colin Farrell, Jude Law and Johnny Depp. It was pure luck, he said, that Ledger made the artistic choice (which wasn't in the script) to wear his weird mask every time he went inside the magic mirror, which made it easier for the other actors to replace him in the weird sequences on the other side. He says Ledger's character was partly inspired by Tony Blair, because Gilliam was so angry at Blair for serving as such an eloquent mouthpiece for George Bush during the Iraq war.

We asked Gilliam what he thought he would see if he went inside the mysterious Imaginarium, and he laughed raucously, saying:

That's what's on film, what I see. You get to see what I see. I just had a lot of silly ideas. Let's make this mirror and on the other side... I was playing a bit, to see if I could find a world halfway between the realistic world and the cartoon world. Like the Grant Wood scene, with Jude, it's all a sort of Grant Wood landscape, a painterly landscape, but the trick is you have to feel you're in the space, even though it is what it is, and it's not realistic.


Someone pointed out that Gilliam actually started out his career as a cartoonist, so this is sort of returning to his roots. He replied:

This is my Fanny And Alexander, my Amarcord. This is a compendium of all the things I used to be good at. (Laughs)


He says he conceived of this film because he was fascinated with the idea of anachronism, and wanted to bring an old-fashioned carnival troupe into the present day — although he also wrestled with the idea of bringing in some futuristic elements or having a future setting.

Gilliam says he's "trying to push the idea that it's Parnassus' story." Ledger's character doesn't show up for the first 15-20 minutes of the movie, so if you go in expecting it to be about Ledger's character, you're going to be disappointed.



"which Gilliam calls 'a compendium of all the things I used to be good at.'"

I just wanna give him a big hug.