The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Imaginative Heath Ledger fantasy is too dark for young kids.
  • PG-13
  • 2009
  • 122 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 14 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Although the characters aren't exactly virtuous, Doctor Parnassus does (mostly) learn from his mistakes. His bets with the devil are all done with the aim of saving his daughter, and when he finally lets her go to live her own life, he has -- in a sense -- freed himself. And in the end, he has continued to be a storyteller (a most important job, according to the movie).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Certainly Tony (a liar and possibly a thief) isn't a role model, but it's possible that Doctor Parnassus has some good things to impart to audiences, even though he's a drinker and a gambler and is continually making deals with the devil). He believes that, above all, the world keeps going only because people tell stories about it, and he's part of that tradition. He overcomes some of his problems and learns to let his daughter live the life she wants.


Characters engage in frequent arguing and infrequent fistfights, with the occasional bloody nose. That said, the movie also has plenty of frightening, nightmarish imagery, such as characters whose mouths shrivel up and disappear and a building that crumbles into a dark abyss.


Tony caresses Valetina's face and moves in for a kiss but is interrupted. Later, one of the "mirror Tonys" has sex with Valentina (who's 16) in a boat. They kiss, and the scene then cuts to Tony buttoning his shirt and Valentina lying back with only her bra and underwear on (so sex is clearly implied). Valentina also appears nude in one scene, but her long hair covers all her private parts. Valentina wears a series of low-cut dresses and clothing. In another scene, a woman approaches a sleazy hotel with one of the "mirror Tonys," and she clearly has one thing in mind.


"S--t" is used more than once; also "ass," "tits," "son of a bitch," "friggin' hell," "hell," "goddamn it," and "Christ's sakes."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Doctor Parnassus frequently drinks and gets drunk, and viewers see him carrying a bottle. He passes out on stage once. On one occasion, Anton drinks from a bottle and gets drunk. Other, minor characters emerge drunk from pubs; some carry bottles and pints. Others smoke cigarettes, but infrequently.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fantasy movie with elements that might look family friendly, it dives into some fairly mature and dark waters -- very much like the often brutal and terrifying Grimm fairy tales that inspire director Terry Gilliam. The imagery, while dazzling, is also frightening and even nightmarish at times (and the first 40 minutes of the movie are very disjointed, which may turn off some viewers), so it's not an age-appropriate pick for younger kids. Plus, the devil is one of the movie's major characters, and the "heroes" aren't exactly shining role models, either -- many of them keep secrets and deceive people, often for selfish reasons. And the 16-year-old heroine has sex and is seen smoking a cigarette the next morning (presumably after the act itself). Many viewers will be curious to see Heath Ledger's final performance and how Gilliam finished the film around his absence, but Ledger is ultimately just one member of an ensemble cast and not really the film's "star."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMovieMan26 October 11, 2010

Imaginative aberrancy/lunacy tale could have been better

This very creative and original fantasy thriller could have been epic... if done by a director with more skills. The first half is great; it was really nice to... Continue reading
Parent of a 10-year-old Written bykiki777 June 4, 2010
My major concern for kids was that they showed people being hanged on several occasions.
Teen, 13 years old Written byRed Ace April 30, 2019

Standing ovation

the sets where immaculate, hair and makeup was superb and the acting was phenomenal. I watched this film with my sister and we both adored it. The plot line wa... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byCooltiger37 September 5, 2019

Muddled Gilliam fantasy fine for teens- if it interests them

Having loved his earlier "Brazil", when I found out that this particular film was directed by the same person, Terry Gilliam, I obviously had to watch... Continue reading

What's the story?

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) runs a traveling carnival show featuring a magic mirror that leads to fantastic worlds. Long ago he made a deal with the devil, who's known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits). Parnassus' daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) was the prize -- and the deadline for the deal is nearly up. So Doctor Parnassus strikes a new deal with Mr. Nick: The first one to collect five souls wins. Meanwhile, after one night's show, the doctor's crew -- including Percy (Vern Troyer) and Anton (Andrew Garfield) -- discovers and rescues a hanged man. The man, Tony (Heath Ledger), can remember nothing, but Doctor Parnassus is convinced that he's been sent for a special reason. And there are many more secrets to be revealed. ...

Is it any good?

Though it's a fantasy, Doctor Parnassus isn't really a family movie, and most of the elements here are probably much too dark for young kids. Ledger's untimely death partway through production -- and director Terry Gilliam's subsequent, clever method of filling in the resulting blanks by using other actors (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law) -- will no doubt encompass most of the discussion around THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS. But that aside, it really is an outstanding work of personal vision and dazzling imagery. It's a rare thing: a fantasy film filled with gorgeous computer effects that also has a dark, mature sensibility and doesn't rely completely on said effects.

Gilliam is incapable of telling a story casually, and his personal obsessions often come along as a bonus. The director's very specific way of looking at things -- i.e. his use of space, lighting and cutting -- will thrill more adventurous moviegoers, but may upset audiences looking for something a bit simpler and more streamlined.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • How do you think Gilliam's decision to "replace" Heath Ledger with three other actors worked out? Is the movie meant to be seen as a tribute to Ledger?

  • Is the movie more or less scary than films that have more outright violence? Do scenes have to be violent to be scary?

  • Why would someone be tempted to make a deal with the devil? Is Doctor Parnassus' "prize" for winning one of his deals a blessing or a curse?

  • Doctor Parnassus believes that the world goes on because people tell stories. Do you agree or disagree?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasies

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