I'm Not There

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger Directed by: Todd Haynes

Though I'm not much of a Bob Dylan fan, I had been wanting to see I'm Not There for quite some time-if for no other reason than to see how six very different actors – Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere and Ben Wishaw – portraying this musician.

But none of them are actually Bob Dylan – they are characters that embody different personas, phases, re-inventions, perceptions.  The movie doesn't follow a chronological timeline; rather, it has a more organic, theme-driven flow.  The story of a 10-year-old guitar-playing, ballad-singing, train-hopping wanderer who calls himself Woody Guthrie (Franklin) bleeds into the world of Billy (Gere), a loner living on the outskirts of an old west-style town.

The movie diverts into a documentary-style approach – a tale told by others –  when introducing Jack (Bale).  Jack is a musician whose songs about his observations, thoughts and feelings resonate with the general public.  Hounded by attention, expectations, praise and labels he doesn't want and cannot handle, Jack eventually abandons these 'finger pointing songs' and pursues a career as a minister.

Another figure feeling trapped by public opinion, Jude Quinn (Blanchett) gets a very cold reception from fans (and other musicians) when switching from folk fare to electric guitar-driven rock.  With the sunglasses, wardrobe, hairstyle, chain-smoking, and cryptic comments that are apparently quintessential Dylan, Blanchett deserves the attention she got for this role.  A pill-popping, never sleeping, somewhat twitchy ball of energy, cryptic answers and refusal to be defined by what other think he is, Quinn appears to be the real mouthpiece of the film.  The artist stifled on all sides – both by the public eye as well as a lifestyle/charade that seems to be more troublesome to keep up than it serves as an escape.

Robbie (Ledger) and Arthur (Wishaw) are more peripheral characters – interesting in the way they are woven into the film as the budding young celebrity indulgently reveling in the limelight and the poet delivering insights on all that unfolds.

Even though I've described the characters and some elements of the story, I've really given nothing away about the overall experience of watching I'm Not There. I was a little worried when reading that it was somewhat of an art film, as that usually indicated the movie will make no sense (i.e. Tuvalu.)  Also, some musician biopics can be very choppy (the first half or so of La Vie En Rose…yikes) or perhaps more fiction than fact.  For example, I thought Walk the Line was fantastic, but after my grandparents saw it, my Gran had to comment, "Well, it was good, but June Carter Cash wasn't near that pretty!"

I would also recommend that you take a look at some of the special features – I flipped through all the character descriptions and other notes on the film before watching it, and I think that helped make my expectations for the movie a little more reasonable.  It also made me appreciate how awesome the overall vision of the film was that six facets of one character work exceptionally well together to project a seamless impression of how dynamic Bob Dylan's life has been.

If you:

  • Appreciate philosophic ramblings – even if they are a little out there
  • Like to find little links throughout movies/books/etc that tie the characters together in a clever way
  • Have been searching for an example of a movie that is not really linear, but isn't so jumbled that it  that leaving you asking "…WTF??" at the end. (um….Lost Highway)
  • Like a good soundtrack

Put it in the queue!

However, if you:

  • Don't believe that a consistent theme can be a substitute for a plot – or believe a good movie must have a clear plotline to tell a story.
  • Don't like harmonica
  • Aren't big on philosophy and/or poetry
  • Prefer your artsy films completely incomprehensible

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson