Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is one of my favorite movies. When Gilliam is good, he is very good. (His Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Time Bandits are guilty pleasures for me). Therefore, I looked forward to viewing his latest film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It is his best work since Twelve Monkeys. I was not disappointed. It is worth seeing (even though it does not rise to the cinematic heights of Brazil).

The film is an allegory and a morality tale; a coming of age story and the age old story--good verses evil. Not everyone will appreciate its mythic quality. But for those who, like me, do--they (maybe you?) are in for a real treat.

I remind you that Parnassus is the home of poetry, literature, music, and learning. Mount Parnassus is named after Parnassos, the son of Kleodora and Kleopompus or Poseidon (all mythical Greek figures). The club “Rain on Fifth” in the film is a play on the story of Parnassos. Parnassos was the leader of a city flooded by torrential rain. The citizens escaped the flood by fleeing up the mountain slope.

In another tale, Orpheus is said to have lived on Mt. Parnassus. When Apollo was courting another resident of the mount (the muse Thalia), he developed a fondness for Orpheus and gave him a golden lyre and taught him to play. Tony’s golden flute is a play on Orpheus’ golden lyre. The golden flute gets Tony out of trouble time and again. Just as Orpheus’ mother teaches him to write verse to music of the lyre, Doctor Parnassus teaches his daughter to dream, to use her imagination and shape the world.

In Paris, Montparnasse is the nick name of an area of the city known for its public recitations of poetry. The film is perhaps best viewed as visual poem, epic in scope, and not far removed from the sort of tale Homer or Hesiod might have told if they had trafficked in video rather than parchment.

Hermann Hesse (twentieth-century, German author) used the fountain at the base of Mt. Parnassus (Castalia) as the name of a fictional province in The Glass Bead Game. Castalia had been a nymph until Apollo turned her into a fountain. Dedicated by Apollo to the muses, poets would come and drink of its sacred water for inspiration. The temple at Delphi was washed in the water of this fountain. Many poets and oracles have inspiration in the once nymph. Gilliam drank deeply at the fount. Hesse’s main character is Knecht (Knight) whose best friend is modeled on the existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche. Knecht, at the end of the novel, imagines other lives he might have lived. Gilliam’s film is like the game of which Knecht becomes a master--requiring years of hard study in music, mathematics, and cultural history. Essentially the game is an abstract synthesis of all arts and scholarship. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics. Imagine that.

Back in ancient (mythical) Greece, Zeus sends a flood to destroy the Pelasgians and Prometheus saves his son from the deluge by building him an ark; an ark that comes to rest on Mt. Parnassus. Like Prometheus, Doctor Parnassus wishes to save his child. Mining a vein that would make any existentialist rich, Gilliam works these themes the way Camus worked the Myth of Sisyphus.

Doctor Parnassus was once a monk; a monk dedicated to telling the sacred story, a story he believed brought order to the universe and sustained that universe. When a Mr. Nick silences the monks and the world does not cease to exist, Parnassus refuses to stop believing. Like Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith, he takes a leap. Mr. Nick (like Doctor Faust’s Mephistopheles) makes a wager with Doctor Parnassus. Parnassus wins the bet and is given immortality. As you know, you should be careful for what you wish, your wish might be granted. Immortality (not surprisingly) has a down side.

Mr. Nick likes a man who will wager with him, so he and Doctor Parnassus fight an endless battle for souls. Will a soul dare to imagine, to dream, and if so, will the dream create a world of goodness, or a world of evil. Choices. Its all about freedom and choices. At one point in the film Doctor Parnassus, exhausted from the cosmic struggle, says he is tired of choosing (but he must, there is no choice but to choose).

Like Eve, Doctor Parnassus‘ daughter will be tempted (apples appear several times in the film and in one scene the daughter, Valentinia, strikes an Eve-like (nude) pose. Valentinia reaches the age when one must choose for oneself and leave the dreams of one’s parents behind. It is a difficult moment for both child and parent. Doctor Parnassus fights for the soul of his daughter, but ultimately it is she who must do the choosing. Her salvation is not his anyone’s hands but her own. Her name, reminiscent of the patron saint of romantic love (thanks to Chaucer), is no coincidence. Neither are the name(s) of her potential lovers. Both are named Anthony. One goes by Anton and the other Tony (you will remember that Mark Anthony was famous for being the lover of Cleopatra). The parent in us all aches for both Parnassus and Valintina and the choices they must make.

The connections (like the glass bead game) are seemingly endless. Mark Anthony claimed he was a descendant of the demi-god Anton, the son of Hercules. Hercules’ winged horse was Pegasus and--can you guess--Pegasus came from Mt. Parnassus.

The Corycian Cave (named for the nymph Corycia), on the slope of Mt. Parnassus, is sacred to both the muses and to the god Pan. One enters the cave to bath in the spring waters, sleep, dream, and be inspired. In modern day London, one enters “The Imaginarium” of Doctor Parnassus. When you enter, how will you choose?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sir, you are a fool.

Study the tribe of Dan in the Bible and connect it to Poseidon/Neptune. (You can start with Plato...) Then study Hermetic symbolism, Masonic symbolism, etc. At that point you will begin to understand this movie, which is full of EVIL satanic and Masonic symbols.

Gilliam is no doubt a Luciferian, and this movie was undoubtedly made for that audience. It's too bad that our world is full of SHEEP over whose heads all of this stuff --- which is staring them right in the face --- flies.