In cinema history, there have been many biographical films. Some focus on the person's entire life, some focus on a certain time period of his/her life and some focus on a specific work piece of the person. However, none of them capture the true essence, legacy and fervour of a character quite like 'I'm Not There' does. Director Todd Haynes may have created the most beautiful love letter to a cultural icon in history.
'I'm Not There' attempts to narrate the mystifying persona of Bob Dylan, using the embodiment of six different characters from different time periods. One of the characters is a young African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) who claims to be Woody Guthrie; second is Jack, a folk singer (Christian Bale); third is Robbie (Heath Ledger), a movie actor, who settles down, gets married and has kids; fourth is Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), a famous musician who alienated his fans by switching from folk to folk rock; fifth is an actor (Richard Gere) appearing in a Western; and, sixth is a poet named Arthur (Ben Whishaw) submitting to a contentious interview about his career. The director does not waste time trying to connect these six stories, because this is more of a psychological film, rather than a chronological one.
Other enthusiasts of the French New Wave might get a kick out of this film and the reason is that the composition of the film has a vibrant Goddard sensation. In fact, movie critic, Larry Gloss in his article The Lives of Others: I'm Not There wrote "the film’s commitment to devices from the Godard playbook: pastiche, allusion, quotation, the use of actors to construct allegorical or phantasmatic images of people rather than plausibly represent or incarnate them, the utilization of stars not purely to recruit audiences but to inspire reflection on the multiplicity of identity and the illusion of a coherent self. Godard pioneered the use of these strategies."
Although the movie's main centre is the legend of Bob Dylan, Haynes' brilliantly crafted kaleidoscope briefly touches on and discusses many themes such as artistic integrity, spiritual enlightenment, loneliness and more. Ultimate Dylan fans will find references, recreations of real-life interviews and song lyrics embedded in the script. However, this doesn't mean that the movie is only for Dylan fans, but for an enhanced experience, I would advise to at least be a little familiar with the legendary icon's life.
The six different stories are woven together and what makes this work is that each have their own look. From a contemporary black and white to a warm vivacious look, the viewer is not left confused during the transitions.
The acting in this film has truly stuck by me since my first viewing. It is very clear that each actor spent hours studying the mimics and voice tones of Bob Dylan. Christian Bale, even though his story is perhaps the most uninteresting one, nails the facial expressions. However, the star and heart of the film, Cate Blanchett delivers the performance of a lifetime as she completely transforms herself and steals every single scene. She is given the most memorable lines of the movie and it is a shame that she didn't win the Best Actress Oscar for 2017. Her character is the closest to the real life Bob Dylan in this movie and it was a very bold decision for her character to be played by a woman; on the other hand, it does make sense. When Dylan first became popular, the general public was not familiar with such masterful lyrics and body of music.
Each story captures a different characteristic and persona of Dylan; the time periods of the movie are way outside of the life period of Dylan. I love this artistic choice. It shows that the spirit of Dylan and his ideologies transcend time, as I said the movie isn't trying to be chronological. However, as if this movie isn't bold enough, I would have loved to see characters in the far future and from even further back, almost like a 'Cloud Atlas' fusion.
Overall, 'I'm Not There' left me listening to Bob Dylan's songs 24/7 and with a greater appreciation of brave artistic expression. I guess the spirit of the French New Wave lives on. I cannot recommend this film enough, it is probably one of the most beautiful bio pics ever made.