Centuries before the story in the movie begins, Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) wins a bet with the devil (Tom Waits). As a reward, Dr Parnassus is given immortality. This suits him until he falls in love with a beautiful young woman. To win her heart, he makes another bet with the devil and is given youth in return for any child he and his love might have. The devil says that any such child will belong to him after the child turns 16.
Dr Parnassus's lover dies giving birth to a daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole). Dr Parnassus finally understands the terrible consequences of his bet. As Valentina's 16th birthday gets closer, he finds himself making another desperate bet with the devil to gain her freedom.
With the help of his travelling 'Imaginarium', his faithful companion Percy (Verne Troyer), and Anton (Andrew Garfield), a young actor in love with Valentina, Dr Parnassus sets about the task of saving souls. He is trying to claim five before the devil does. The group is helped along the way by Tony, a dishonest philanthropist whom they save after the Russian mafia tries to hang him. (Tony is played mainly by Heath Ledger, but also by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.)
A desperate race of good versus evil follows. Dr Parnassus and his friends try to win against all odds. Unsuspecting volunteers are given a glimpse of the other realities that lie within the Imaginarium.
Making bets with the devil; gambling with a child's life; alcoholism
This movie contains some violence. For example:
- Percy kicks a policeman.
- A drunken man throws some people off the stage.
- Anton takes a woman into the Imaginarium by force.
- The Imaginarium races through the streets. It bangs against buildings and light posts as it races away from an angry crowd.
- Members of the Russian mafia chase Tony into the Imaginarium. They try to catch him while he escapes any way he can. They eventually corner him and punch him. Anton tries to help him but is thrown against a rock. The mafia members attempt to hang Tony but are distracted and end up being killed themselves.
- Percy and Anton are both thrown off the stage platform. There is a dreadful sound when Anton lands and he is in a lot of pain. We don't know whether he has broken any bones.
- Tony attacks a child (who is really Anton).
- Tony strikes Valentina and knocks her down. Later he hits and punches her again.
- Tony hits and punches Dr Parnassus, who begins to foam at the mouth. He seems to be having some sort of seizure. An ambulance officer thinks he is dead, and Valentina believes him.
- Tony is attacked by an angry mob and killed by hanging.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under eight. In particular, there are several scenes in the Imaginarium that are extremely surreal and dark and could frighten younger viewers. For example:
- A man is lost and has fallen into a chasm filled with empty beer bottles. More bottles are being thrown at him. He is then taken by enormous jellyfish that propel him through space with their terrifying tentacles. He swears he will never drink again. He is dropped on a huge tack and is nearly impaled. He is then blown up in a bar while drinking beer.
- A river changes into a large, black, snake. It rears its head in a scary way while wearing the face of the devil.
- While floating in a boat, Tony comes to a place where there are dead cows in the water. The river is filled with what look like rotting carcasses, rubbish and blood.
- There are many scenes where people's faces are transformed or where they wear costumes or masks that could be frightening or confusing to young viewers.
- Anton appears as a child in the Imaginarium and is attacked by Tony. He is beaten to the ground before a horrified audience.
- The world inside the Imaginarium appears to crack and crumble while being destroyed. People run away and glass shatters around Valentina. A chasm opens up and Anton falls into it despite Valentina's efforts to save him.
Children in this age group could also be disturbed by some of the scenes described above. They might also be concerned by the theme of making bets with the devil, particularly when the bets threaten the life of a child.
Younger children in this age group could be disturbed by the idea of making a bet with the devil and threatening the life of a child.
There are some sexual references in this movie. For example:
- A drunken stranger lunges at Valentina, using crude language to describe her breasts. He goes on to say how he wants to grab her while she runs away from him.
- Tony is encouraged by an older woman to have a one-night stand with her. She wants to lead him to a hotel, while he persuades her to do otherwise.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie contains some use of substances. For example:
- Many club-goers are seen drinking and coming out of a club drunk.
- In the Imaginarium, there is a pub with hands holding beer, enticing people to enter and have just one drink.
- Dr Parnassus has an alcohol problem. He is often found drinking or ends up drunk somehow.
- The devil is often seen smoking.
- Valentina smokes a cigarette while riding in a gondola with Tony.
Nudity and sexual activity
There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie. For example:
- Valentina's outfits often show a lot of cleavage.
- There is a group of policemen in the Imaginarium who are wearing women's dresses with heels and fishnet stockings. They do a dance that shows a lot of their thighs.
- Tony and Valentina kiss in a gondola. The boat rocks backwards and forwards. When the scene returns to them, Valentina is partially dressed, which suggests they have had sex.
- A man squeezes Anton's fake breasts.
None of concern
This movie contains some coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is a fantasy adventure film with numerous plot twists and special effects. It leaves the viewer with a lot to think about. Disturbing scenes and themes make it unsuitable for younger viewers.
The main message from this movie is that we all make our own choices and choose our own destinies.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with older children include:
- determination and creativity in problem-solving
- making positive, moral choices
- devotion and faithfulness.