All the noose that's fit to print.
January 10, 2010 1:03 PM   Subscribe

In Terry Gilliam's new film The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a character appears to be a manifestation of the hanged man tarot card, and has symbols on his forehead corresponding with those on a card shown in the film. The tarot decks I'm familiar with don't have such symbols on the hanged man card, however, and Googling hasn't been revealing. Is there a deck that the specific card shown in the film comes from?
posted by eschatfische to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Without having seen the movie and without you describing the will be kinda hard to answer you.

I think the Hebrew letter on the hanged man card is 'mem'
posted by ian1977 at 1:13 PM on January 10, 2010

Here's a still from the movie that gives you some idea of what the symbols look like. BE ADVISED: the character in question is played by the late Heath Ledger, and in the photo, though alive at the time, he is hanging from a noose and appears to be dead. Here's the photo.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:34 PM on January 10, 2010

And, of course, a moment later I found a better photo where he doesn't look dead.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:36 PM on January 10, 2010

The first symbol is a Phi, from the Greek alphabet - the other two don't appear to be Greek. This inconsistency makes me lean towards "They look cool, nothing more." (As opposed to them all being Greek, Hebrew, or explained in the movie.)

Having had experience with several decks, none of them have had symbols on the Hanged Man's forehead. I suspect that they were added in the movie for mystical atmosphere. (Then again, individual decks vary greatly based on the whims of the artist, and even the reader, so this may be a personal interpretation / addition from the artist that made the movie.)
posted by GJSchaller at 2:12 PM on January 10, 2010

In the movie, the symbols are on gray tablets (rectangular and larger than runes), rather than his forehead, flanking either side.
posted by Gucky at 2:14 PM on January 10, 2010

Erm...the hanged man tarot card does NOT show the hanged man hanging by his neck. He's hanging by a foot. So odds are, this doesn't seriously resemble any (fairly standard) tarot card.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:35 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

jenfullmoon is right. If he's hanging from his neck, it certainly does not represent the tarot card.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:38 PM on January 10, 2010

The tarot card of the hanged man -- from no deck I know of -- appears as a portend of Heath Ledger's character.

The same symbols from the card appear on Heath Ledger's forehead, as he hangs from his neck.
posted by Gucky at 2:41 PM on January 10, 2010

The Hanged Man is typically hanged by the foot, as jenfullmoon mentioned, which historically was a punishment reserved for traitors. In fact, the card was originally called "The Traitor". The modern interpretation tends toward themes of sacrifice.

I'm also going to go out on a limb (har) and say that the symbols are meant to look cool and occult-y, and that there's no clear Hanged Man symbolism there.
posted by hermitosis at 2:56 PM on January 10, 2010

In the film, Gilliam alludes to (and conflates) a number of symbols and elements of classical art, Christianity, Eastern religions and supernatural elements. That the hanged man is represented in the film both as the figure in the tarot and in a conventional "noose around the neck" way is not an inconsistency or misunderstanding.

The tarot card shown in the film does have the hanged man hanging by the foot, yet seems to clearly be an allusion to Ledger's character, who is hung by the neck.

I appreciate the attempts to help, but I would be surprised if anyone who hasn't seen the film would be able to answer my question.
posted by eschatfische at 2:57 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whether or not the Hanging Man card was modified to suit the plot, I recalled a tarot card mention in the credits, so I googled it. Lo and behold:

Ancient Italian tarot cards used by permission of Lo Scarabeo S.R.L.
posted by Bromius at 3:29 PM on January 10, 2010

None of the symbols are Hebrew letters. I agree with the "cool and occult-y" explanation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:46 PM on January 10, 2010

My two cents is that Gilliam is using Alchemical symbols. Ledger is dressed in white, and white is one of the color phases of Alchemy. The first symbol PL is a symbol for Pluto, and a lead notation, so there's a double meaning there. The white phase in alchemy precedes the gold phase; one of the many colors lead can take on is white when bonded with calcium carbonate.

The red triangle up---I can't see it very well, but in this position and color it is the opposite of the green reverse triangle, which would be the "green lion" or vitriol (anger).

The hanged man card is the Tarot is often associated with preoccupation with a psychological matter, often narcissism, to the point of exclusion of the outside world.

Anyway, if you want to see a treasure trove of Alchemy symbols, check out Andrew MacLean's Alchemy site---it will easily pop up if you Google it.

I hope this is helpful.

One final thought: if there are symbols in the middle of the red triangle, this would refer to the Quintessence, which is the soul part missing from the four elements (earth,air, fire, and water).
posted by effluvia at 3:52 PM on January 10, 2010

I appreciate the attempts to help, but I would be surprised if anyone who hasn't seen the film would be able to answer my question.

I'd love to oblige, but it doesn't seem to be in release yet in the U.S. Unless you know something I don't?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:55 PM on January 10, 2010

EmpressCallipygos, it opened in NYC (and LA?) on Christmas, and has been slowly popping up elsewhere.
posted by Bromius at 3:57 PM on January 10, 2010

Lo Scarabeo, mentioned in the credits (and upthread), appear to be an Italian tarot card publisher. They have a pack called 'Ancient Italian' (sample image from the same pack).

Co-incidentally (conspiracy theorists take note ) Heath Ledger's character is found hanging from Blackfriar's Bridge, in a manner very similar to the death of Roberto Calvi, which has been linked to the Mafia and/or the P2 masonic lodge. (c.f the Eye of Providence a.k.a. the eye in a triangle).
posted by tallus at 9:54 PM on January 10, 2010

I appreciate the attempts to help, but I would be surprised if anyone who hasn't seen the film would be able to answer my question.

Isn't this the question: "Is there a deck that the specific card shown in the film comes from?", which can be answered by anyone looking at the screenshot?
posted by smackfu at 7:46 AM on January 11, 2010

Bromius provided the correct answer to the question. More specifically, the exact cards that you're asking about can be ordered from Amazon here. It looks like Amazon itself is currently out of stock, but there are some apparently available from third-party sellers.
posted by bingo at 7:03 PM on January 11, 2010

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