Terry Gilliam, the former member of Monty Python and celebrated filmmaker, now nearing seventy, has spent much of the last few decades fighting a long and, one must admit, bruising battle against the real world. And while he has not always enjoyed success—indeed, he has tasted outright disaster several times—Gilliam has nonetheless earned his place as one of the great cinematic avatars of the imagination. If his return to form with the fascinating, frustrating, utterly original The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is anything to go by, the cult of realism has never had a more avowed and passionate enemy.
The imagination is not much in style nowadays, as the fetish of realism appears to have overwhelmed all other styles of filmmaking, bleeding into even such fantastical genres as fantasy and science fiction. The enormous success of Christopher Nolan’s rebooted, hyper-realist Batman series is a case in point. While the gritty Batman has enjoyed renewed box office domination, Bryan Singer’s attempt at restarting the far more inherently fantastical—that is, imaginative—Superman character was considered an embarrassing failure. Singer’s Superman Returns, it must be admitted, does suffer from serious flaws, but it is a far better film than it is given credit for, and the real reason behind its relative lack of success would seem to be its utter failure to capture the zeitgeist—the same zeitgeist which propelled Nolan’s The Dark Knight into the financial stratosphere.