The first time you see Heath Ledger in his final film, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” he’s hanging from a rope with a noose around his neck under a London bridge. Could it be any weirder? It was right after he filmed half of his scenes that Ledger returned to New York on a break and died of an accidental overdose of pills.

parnassus 300x160 HEATH LEDGERS LAST FILM: EERIE OVERTONESNow “Parnassus” has been completed by director Terry Gilliam with three actors–Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law–filling out Ledger’s role.

We saw it this morning at Cannes and, it’s nice to say, the movie is a whimsical treat, a lot of fun, and probably makes just as much sense now as it would have if Ledger had been around to finish it.

It’s a sensational visual romp, recalling Gilliam’s best Monty Python work as well as his most successful movies.

At the press conference following this morning’s screening, Gilliam admitted that when Ledger died, he was going to stop the movie entirely. Cooler heads prevailed luckily, and the three guest stars were called in to do their work.

But it is true that the bridge scene and some of the dialogue in the film has ominous and portentous connections, much stuff about living your life, what death means, and the bridge scene doesn’t help. But Gilliam says that’s the movie Ledger signed on for and that’s what he had to complete in his memory.

Indeed, at the end of “Parnassus,” a card reads “a film from Heath Ledger and friends.”

For the time that Ledger is on screen, he’s very good of course, although the whole thing is a little trippy, psychedelic and disjointed. But it’s also not that hard to follow. Gilliam made lemonade from lemons, which wasn’t easy. And in the end, it’s better to have “Dr. Parnassus” than not in his resume and for us to enjoy.

The sad part, of course, is that Ledger just had a limitless future. Between this, “The Dark Knight, ” and “Brokeback Mountain,”’ his career was set up for anything.

There’s a whole other cast to “Parnassus” including talented young British actors Andrew Garfield and Lily Cole, as well as “Mini-Me” Verne Troyer, all of whom assist Dr. Parnassus–the wonderful Christopher Plummer–in his transcendental carnival act, sending people into his imagination. The film is full of cool tricks and animation, not to mention some Monty Python-like gems. Hopefully it will get a decent release in the U.S. by someone who appreciates and loves Gilliam’s sensibilities. We need them.

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