For Parnassus, these supernatural experiences are nothing unusual. He claims to be a monk who gained immortality through a wager with the devil (known as Mr. Nick and played by Tom Waits), but has come to believe that immortal life is a curse rather than a blessing. Now the devil has tracked him down and demanded that Parnassus fulfill his end of their earlier bargain. The two beings then engage in a battle for people's souls.

The film's theology allows for the devil to grant eternal life and for the universe to be sustained not by God but by monks who tell a certain story. It does show the devil to be devious, a trickster, someone not to be trusted, but God is barely mentioned, even as characters talk of miracles, pure sacrifices and eternal life.

In short, the film as a story is as messy as its theology, but it's hard to take one's eyes off the screen during the telling. The visuals in the imaginarium sequences are vivid, and several shots of Parnassus and his troupe are infused with a dark beauty. Sadly, that's not nearly enough to recommend the ponderous Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Gilliam may yet make another great film, but recent evidence suggests a career in serious decline. The director's imagination appears to be spent. Like Parnassus himself, Gilliam is doing the same act, and the public has lost whatever interest it once might have had.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Several obscenities; "god—mmit."
  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Doctor Parnassus is often drunk and shown drinking; a man jumps on stage, drunk, and gropes a woman; a scene at Mr. Nick's, a lounge/bar; several scenes of smoking by numerous characters.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A woman on a stage appears to be naked, but her long hair partially covers her breasts and midsection; a man slaps a woman's backside; in the imaginarium, a woman tries to drag Tony to a hotel with a "Vacancy" sign, but he declines; Tony and Eve kiss in a boat, and are seen with their shirts unbuttoned in the next scene; Eve's bra is seen.
  • Violence/Crime:  A man hangs by the neck from a bridge; drunken brawling; gangster violence.
  • Religion:  A performer portrays Mercury, the messenger of the gods; Parnassus and the devil engage in a battle for souls; immortality is achieved through a bargain with the devil, but everlasting life is viewed as a trick more than a reward, and as a "bloody curse"; monks are said to repeat a "universal story" that sustains the universe; the devil shuts their mouths in order to disprove this theory, which the devil calls "ridiculous nonsense"; tarot cards are turned over and it is said that they "don't lie"; Doctor Parnassus promises to "purify" those who will enter his imaginarium; it is said that a person's sacrifice must be "absolutely pure"; Satan shifts shapes into a giant serpent; a character says, "Nothing's permanent. Even death"; the pregnancy of a 60-year-old woman is said to be either a miracle or a mistake.