Sunday, August 28, 2011


I just watched Terry Gilliam's 2009 movie The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (IDP), and thought I would say a few words about it.

First off, the movie did not spring solely from the imaginations of screenwriters Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown, as much of the underlying themes and basis of the movie are taken whole sale-from a story that appeared in the Doctor Who Magazine, that detailed the exploits of the sixth Doctor. This story, called Voyager, was broken down into four parts; The Shapeshifter, Voyager, Polly the Glot, and Once Upon a Time Lord. If you can get you hands on a copy of it I highly recommend it, the story is well-told and beautifully illustrated. I am not going to go into all of the details of the story so instead I will just show you a few of the ways that the Voyager strip matches with The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

The villain in the Voyager comic is a man called Astrolabus. He is also known as:
Swami Astral Arbus, Professor Astro Labus, the star taker, the sandman, the jester, the conjurer, the clown, the fool, El Diablo, Robin Hood, the willow wand in the diviner's hand, the last man, the flame-keeper, the light at the edge of the world, Santa Claus, the Fairy at the bottom of your garden, the spring in the well, the story-teller, the star-spanner, the Goblin, the Imp, the ace of wands, magic, myth, legend, the thief of time.

Dr. Parnassus is clearly modeled on Astrolabus, as we can see by the above monikers; Swami Astral Arbus, and the Storyteller. In Voyager, it becomes clear that Astrolabus has creative control over Doctor Who's life, by means of story-telling. Dr. Parnassus is also intimately connected to the telling of stories; this time in order to sustain the Universe. Both individuals are steeped in pursuits of a mystical nature and seek eternal-life, at one point or another.

Swami Paranassus in a trance state.
An artists impression of the scene with the space-faring jellyfish in IDP.

At the beginning of the movie, we see a man being carried off into space by a school of space-faring jellyfish. The Voyager story called Polly the Glot is concerned with the well-fare of a similar space-faring creature, a Zyglot, known as Polly.

A picture of Polly the Zyglot in Space. (1984)

The last story in the Voyager series, called Once Upon a Time Lord, is the most important where Astrolabus is concerned, as it reveals his motivations and his ultimate undoing. the opening music to the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is called Once Upon a Time. Although, I think Gilliam would rather like you to think Once Upon a Time Bandit, as the dwarf theme is revived for this movie.

Starcharts in Terry Gilliam's 1981 movie Time Bandits.

At least, two of IDP's main stars, Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield, have played parts in the Doctor Who TV series, in 2011 and 2007 respectively. After the death of Heath Ledger, Gilliam decided not to cast one replacement for his character Tony, but 3. For this reason, Ledger is seen to undergo a number of different transformations as the movie progresses, just as Dr. Who's character has been known to do over the entire series, which has lasted many decades.
There are a total of 4 actors reprising the role of Tony in IDP; Depp, Law, Farrel and Ledger.

There have been, to date, 10 actors who have played the Doctor in the BBC series.

So if Astrolabus is from Doctor Who, who is Doctor Parnassus? Good Question. It appears that Parnassus was named after Mount Parnassus near Delphi, in Central Greece. Parnassus was the son of the nymph Kleodora, and the man Kleopompos. He was the leader of a city that had been blighted by torrential rains and forced to move upland into the mountain range, which now bares his name.

With the Oracle of Apollo formerly located at near-by Delphi, it is no surprise that Apollo (the God of Prophecy, Music and Healing) would also come to be associated with this mountain range. Stories tell how Apollo rested here, after defeating the serpent Python. He is also believed to have given Orpheus his famous Golden lyre upon this mount.
Considering there are so many tales concerning Apollo attached to the name Parnassus, I asked myself; what is the connection between Heath Ledger and Apollo? A bit of research revealed this piece of insight, posted at
Topic:   Heath Ledger Apollo 15 Coincidence?
 posted July 14, 2005 03:43 PM                 
Whilst watching a Heath Ledger film (The Four Feathers), my wife and I were wondering what else we'd seen him in, so I searched the Internet Movie Database... Only to find that in the Australian soap Home and Away, he played a character called Scott Irwin. Surely this CANNOT be a coincidence?!

David R. Scott and James B. Irwin were the names of two astronauts who landed on the moon with Apollo 15, in 1971.

So, in an instant, we have gone from symbolism pertaining to the Sun and life, to that of the Moon and death. Home and Away suggests leaving Earth and traveling into space, but it also suggests what we know as life, and the end of life. Home is the Earth, Away is the Stars (other planets), Ledger has gone beyond. 

All I know about The Four Feathers movie is what I have read on IMDB, as I have not seen it yet. But I suspect that is loaded with yet more imagery and symbolism, and is certainly one to watch.

Set in 1884 Sudan, this fifth film to be adapted from the A.E.W. Mason novel follows a British officer who resigns his post right before his regiment ships out to battle the rebels. Perceiving his resignation as cowardice, his friends and fiancée give him four white feathers, the symbol of cowardice, but little do they know he's actually going undercover and plans to redeem his honor. 

In light of the Apollo reference, I suspect that the four white feathers are possibly chicken feathers, or, in any case, amount to the same accusation; coward = chicken. Apparently, the word 'Apollo' means chicken in Russian, but I don't know if that is true. There is also a dish called Chicken Apollo, which I am unfamiliar with. Here is the recipe;

4 boneless chicken breasts
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. Italian dressing
3 tbsp. teriyaki sauce
1/2 tsp. parsley
Freshly ground pepper
1 airtight container

Wash chicken thoroughly in hot water. Place in bottom of container. Mash or chop garlic and place on top of chicken. Pour remaining ingredients over chicken. Cover. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Grill or broil when ready to cook.NOTE: Broiling takes about 5 minutes.

At the beginning of the Imaginarium, the Devil (played by Tom Waits) is seen riding towards a monastery, supported on the backs of four stone elephants. These elephants are also seen in the Dr. Who Voyager saga, during a dream sequence in which the Doctor reaches the edge of the world. The four white feathers of Ledger's earlier movie are contrasted by the four white elephants of his final work.

Dr. Parnassus Ext. Monastery, Set Sketch by Dave Warren.

In olden times, when people still believed the Earth to be flat, it was postulated that it was supported on the backs of 4 elephants, who, in turn, were standing on the back of a giant tortoise; the World Turtle. The picture below shows a rendition of Terry Pratchett's Disc-world, 

The concept of the world being supported on the backs of 4 elephants is an old idea, that has its origins in the mists of time. So, I am uncertain as to why its says devised by Terry Pratchett at the bottom of this drawing. It's a joke.
In modern times, the concept of the four elephants standing on the back of a turtle and holding aloft the world has been artfully, and cunningly replaced by four teenage mutant hero turtles, living in the sewers and protecting the city through crime-fighting. This just goes to show how concepts like these are archetypal, and never really die. They merely evolve into more bizarre incarnations.

This poster for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), shows our heros emerging from the underground sewers. But, it could equally be interpreted as them holding aloft the modern world, represented by the city. Notice how the Flat Earth, or Discworld, has been replaced by the man hole cover. This disc-shape is also represented by what the turtles' favourite food; pizza.

The 2007 TMNT movie is a dismal failure that includes references to the Mayan Calendar and the New Age concept of a Galactic Alignment in 2012. It also contains references to the Hanged Man Tarot Card. This implies that 2012-2013 will be a difficult period for mankind, in which it will be necessary to re-evaluate what is meaningful to us, as a species. TMNT can be numerically rendered as 2013-1420, which is also a reversal of some kind. A new TMNT series will be brought on Nickelodeon in 2012.

Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrel are the four heavy weights of Hollywood. They represent the four white elephants, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, propping up director Terry Gilliam's crumbling world. Johnny Depp in particular embodies this notion, as it was his character Cpt. Jack Sparrow who escaped a desert island on the backs of two sea turtles strapped together.

At the end of the Imaginarium, Dr. Parnassus is seen outside of a restaurant called 'Rain on the 5th'. Rain on the 5th Month is the title of an engraving by 18 century Japanese artist Suzuki Harunobu. 

The blurb, which accompanies the image, states;

In most parts of Japan, the fifth month (present day June by the Gregorian calendar) brings lengthy rainy days. Although the rain is necessary for healthy growth of the rice crop, combined with pre-summer warmth it can cause health hazards and dampen spirit for the urban population of Edo.*

You may remember that the Greek Parnassus had go upland with his people to escape from the rains, in ancient times.

If you take a look at Terry Pratchett's 'imagining' of Discworld, you will see that because the Earth is flat, the oceans are allowed to spill over the edges. The water goes passed the  heads of the four elephants and rains down on the 5th animal; the turtle.

This relates back to TMNT, because the ninja turtles are trained in the art of Ninjutsu, a Japanese martial art. So, it would appear that the four elephants have been replaced by four teenage mutant ninja turtles standing on the back of a rat i.e. Splinter. I endorse this new world view.

The Hanged Man is a Tarot Card, and an important symbol in the IDP, as it is the card most befitting of Ledger's character Tony. When we first meet Tony he is hanging by the neck (alive) from Blackfriar's Bridge in London. He has three mysterious symbols on his forehead, which remain unexplained for duration of the movie.

I went in search of answers, and found that the first symbol (left) is very similar to the Ancient Greek letter Phi. Following this line of reasoning, the next symbol most closely resembles Delta; this makes Phi Delta, or PD.

P2 or Propaganda Due (PD) are an illegal masonic secret society founded in Italy. They were believed to be behind the murder of Vatican banker Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London, in 1982. Terry Gilliam described the bridge scene in IDP as "a homage to Calvi."

If we conclude that all three symbols are thinly disguised Greek symbols, then it could be translated as Phi Delta Sigma. This form of Greek nomenclature is utilised by fraternities all across America. Delta Sigma Phi (DSP) is a leading college Fraternity in America. College fraternities are modeled loosely upon Masonic lodges and for this reason contain many references to the Egyptian and Classical mysteriesSymbols associated with DSP include, the pyramid, the lute (or lyre), the Gorgian knot, and (perhaps not unsurprisingly) the Elephant.
DSP = Doctor/Swami Parnassus.

If you investigate all of these symbols you will see that they relate to the narrative of IDP in a surprisingly complex net of associations; too complex to go into any great detail here. Suffice it to say that Andrew Garfield's character is Orphic in nature, as he receives a golden flute from Tony (Apollo), after saving his life at Blackfriars Bridge. Anton's quick thinking in this instance also makes him comparable to Alexander the Great, who severed the Gordian Knot and went onto become king of all Asia. Lily Cole's character Valentina is related to Persephone and Eurydice, because she must journey into the Imaginarium; the Land of the Dead.

It is of course highly coincidental that a movie, which is primarily about traveling beyond the bounds of death, should have its main star die during filming. But as the movie says itself coincidence "does not exist, and everything happens for a reason." But what is the reason. Some people have been quick to blame Gilliam, and with his own comments about the film's success being helped along by "human sacrifice" who could blame them?

A key factor to the progression of this movie is that Parnassus is making different wagers with the Devil. Perhaps Ledger's previous success in his role as Joker, in the Dark Knight, was down to just such a wager, and when the time came to collect the Devil was waiting behind the scenes.

*Edo is short for the Garden of Eden. The serpent (Tom Waits) who tempts Eve (Lily Cole) is really a cockatrice (part snake part chicken).

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