The first time I saw Parnassus, I think I had mixed feelings. It was an awesome adventure, felt it was layered and meaningful, but also confusing. I wasn’t sure I understood the plot entirely. I’ve read and listened to reviews and podcasts floundering about as well, trying to make sense of it, but always talking around it, never about what exactly is going on and what is seen. As I researched more into esoteric and occult subjects and got the blu-ray and listened to Terry Gilliam’s commentary a few times, I’ve seen the movie around 5 times now. I think TG is a genius, always have. Movie-wise, dialog wise and scriptwriting wise, it’s a little rough on the edges because characters sometimes flatly state their intentions and repeat information a lot, but really I wouldn‘t have known because the accents, mumbling, and overlapping lines make it difficult to understand what’s going on, so watching it with subtitles was extremely helpful. But as far as the ideas and potential of the film - brilliant, amazing, awesome, enlightening.
Jumping right into some analysis, all the imagery in the Imaginarium has meaning. It’s a reflection of the imaginations and thoughts of the people who go inside that mirror on the stage. In the beginning, the drunk trudges through bottles. I think the jellyfish and space is like an underwater feeling of being drunk. When the boy enters, it’s all toys, candy things, and air-inflated things for the video-game playing kid to blow up. The shoppers (the tall one is Brienne of Tarth , btw) dream of jewelry and baubles, etc. As the movie goes on, more and more people enter the mirror, aka the Dr.’s mind (not sure how) who polices it, and so there are a mixture of people’s imagery competing for attention, as well as the competing Mr. Nick, a type of devil character. The imagery represents the temptations, the distractions, the decadence, and they are respectively dazzled, lured like a fish. It is unless they drop it all, sacrifice worldly things, choose the Dr.’s long hard road path, they'll come out an enlightened changed person. It’s about reclaiming spirituality in a time of ignorance, hence the odd traveling wagon show juxtaposed near modern settings.
TG’s commentary explains that Dr. P came from a monastery of ancient jewish/tibetan monks (who say “om vei“), and believe their role is to tell the story to define the world. The tree stump Dr. P sits on is the Tree of Life that was cut down, and the monks feel, quite arrogantly, that they replace its role - they are the lifeblood of the world and their story is the only story. Mr. Nick enters, proves them wrong by shutting their mouths, but Dr. P supposes someone else in the world is telling a story. So TG states his feelings on religion - all the Christians and Jews, etc. have got it wrong. It’s ALL of our stories. I believe there is a truth, an enlightenment, to be found in all things; the ancients knew it, but it was broken apart long ago. And also, it’s an ancient idea that we manifest events and things, past, present, future, that we are all part of a one-consciousness. The story of Dr. P is really a story of the lost and found-ness of the ancient mystery schools, i.e. pre-religion. And he is trying to tell us again, as Anton says in that mystical phrase, "for those with eyes to see and ears to hear."
The Wagon: The wagon is loaded with symbols, from ancient Egyptian, Greek, Buddhist, etc. The illuminated great all-seeing eye in pyramid, twin pillars, Anton dressed as Mercury, etc. Dr.P, in various Asian and exotic garb, has acquired all this through his immortal years, and it’s just so dense, it’s indecipherable, and yet maybe that's the point. This is antiquated spiritual imagery that most people are ignorant of and do not care. Dr. P and friends have a very hard time gaining an audience in the modern world that worships consumerism. Later, Tony, Heath Ledger’s character, a smoothtalker chameleon that adapts to situations, comes in and changes up the design of the stage, to modernize it, and it does the trick. And the new stage will have other symbols. More on that later.
The Deal: Mr. Nick and Dr. P make various gambles to spice up life, TG explains. In Dr. P’s ancient book, he explains to his daughter Valentina that Mr. Nick wagers that it is fear that runs the world and how to control it (Mr. Nick portrayed amongst priests, very telling of what TG says about the rise of religion). Mr. Nick believes in the “necessities of danger, fear and the fabled bliss of ignorance.” However, according to TG, Dr. P says it’s about joy, “the power of the imagination to transform and illuminate our lives.” First to 12 disciples wins, Dr. P wins immortality. BTW, Anton, I think, is an extension of Dr. P, for Andrew Garfield plays everything in a fun and playful way. Mr. Nick, TG explains, isn’t really the devil, he’s somewhat below that, some second-rate figure. The two immortals run these battles with mankind, they gamble because it’s interesting to them, or else things get boring. Percy is like Jiminy Cricket, the conscience. And, I don’t think Dr. P, the protagonist, is entirely that good of a person actually, for he wagers lives for selfish reasons. Evil Mr. Nick even seems to have a heart near the end, offering to gamble again so Dr. P can get his daughter back. These main story elements about what pushes and pulls mankind through the ages, and which school of thought governs us, saves us or destroys us, is probably the main interesting and powerful thing about the movie
Well, that’s just part of my first page of my 5 pages of notes. I’ll split this up into several posts.