The last time director Terry Gilliam presented a film at the Cannes Festival goes back to 1998, with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Today, he has come to show The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus out of Competition. In mid-shoot, on January 22nd, 2008, star Heath Ledger suddenly died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Gilliam was so devastated that his first reaction was to give up making the film. But the rest of the crew rallied and encouraged him, telling him he had to do it for Ledger's sake. Gilliam and his team went to work rewriting, and in the end, they found a solution which preserved Ledger's last onscreen performance intact. And then Gilliam picked up the phone and began calling people who had been close to Ledger. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law stepped in. "I am grateful to Johnny, Colin and Jude for coming on board, and to everyone else who has made it possible for us to finish the film,” Gilliam says. "Their willingness to help rescue the film and Heath’s last performance was an incredible act of generosity and love. A beautiful and rare moment in our industry and, as a result of their involvement, the film is even more special: it’s more surprising; it’s become funnier. All in all, it’s a bit more magical."
The fantasy adventure is orchestrated by the ageless Doctor Parnassus, who has the power to project people into their own imagination. However, the fascinating journey always ends with a choice, which can lead to the best or the worst. And Parnassus, as an inveterate gambler, has his own problems. Having won a wager with the Devil, he has made two successive deals with Mr. Nick over the ages. Granted immortality first and eternal youth next, he once agreed to deliver his first-born to the Devil when he or she reached the age of 16. And now that Valentina is only days away from the fatal age, the Devil is already prowling in the vicinity.
If every work of art is a magical mirror reflecting the personality of its creator, the Parnassus character could, in some ways, be Gilliam himself. But he confesses, "I’m not sure whose autobiography it is. I mean, I thought it was vaguely related to mine, but I’m not sure any more! It’s about the struggle of creative people…artists... They try to inspire others, encourage them to open their eyes, to appreciate the truth of the world, but most are not successful – that’s the reality."