I'm Not There ★★★★½

I’ve got a real unique relationship with Bob Dylan

I’ve watched films about him (fictional and documentary), I’ve read books about him (self-composed and biographical), and I’ve done just about everything other than, well, listen to his music or really bother doing any research about him and his clearly fascinating life

and yet I find myself so fascinated with— him: the IDEA of Bob Dylan

he’s taken on such a mythic quality that my lens of him has almost always been that of a mythological urban legend: a folk hero who can only be observed indirectly— songs, films, literature— like a plastic cup to a wall, or an intergenerational game of “Telephone”

and I really can’t explain such a bizarre fascination except for one recurring motif: the refusal to be bound by the traditional confines of reality

from what I’ve gathered as a special brand of pseudo-Dylanologist: Bob Dylan’s life was one defined a shattering of conventions: of larger forces, of modes of thought, and of even himself— which brings us to this film: “I’m Not There”

first things first: this, THIS is the Todd Haynes I know and love— when this guy wants to he can bust out some AMAZING movies and I LOVE HIM for that

eschewing a traditional biopic, “I’m Not There” is more like freewheeling collage poetry— it honestly resembles Dylan’s own novel “Tarantula” in its highly varied and free-associative structure— operating more as a mood piece— an evocation of the idea or the feeling of Bob Dylan

this lends the film a quality of feeling more like an album than a film— even its characters’ dialogue are peppered with references to quotes and especially lyrics from Dylan: they speak in poetry, or in this case: lyrics

but let’s get to the part that anybody remembers about this movie: the casting

Dylan (or rather that IDEA of Dylan) is portrayed by six different actors— each of whom, in some shape or form, encapsulate a different idea, era, or more specifically persona of Dylan without the film every implicitly referencing him past a name drop in the opening credits, a brief snippet of archival footage at the end, and some pieces and covers of his music throughout

Dylan is like Schrödinger’s Cat in this film: he’s young and old, male and female, black and white, lovable and loathful, passionate and disillusioned

Haynes describes his reasoning for sextuple casting as such:

“The minute you try to grab hold of Dylan, he's no longer where he was. He's like a flame: If you try to hold him in your hand you'll surely get burned.”

and I honestly think this approach works FANTASTICALLY— and what could easily be initially dismissed as a filmic gimmick quickly and readily apparently becomes an examination of persona and the nature of self, especially in relation to ones art

not only this, but this structure helps give the film a much breezier quality— for those who don’t mind the lack of a singularly uniform narrative— you’ll instead find a multitude of different ones that tackle a variety of genres: from picaresque to documentary, romantic drama to western, tragedy to interviews

now, admittedly, the movie’s obviously not perfect (who of us is?)

speaking of structure: it can come across as quite cluttered, messy even, which on the one hand lends to the effect, but on the other will frequently disorient: not helped by the film’s often heady dialogue

and also as consequence, the frequent picking up and dropping of narratives can lead to some, if not all, feeling a bit incomplete: but again, I could chalk this up to being intentional

and on top of all that, in spite of just asking for more: I STILL feel like this one’s a little too long— could use with some trimming in spots that I think could help things move more smoothly (or make them more confusing! who knows!)

on the whole though, I think the film works incredibly well, and that’s not even mentioning one of the final most important aspects: the music

Jesus effin’ Christ this is one of the best soundtracks to a film I’ve ever heard: both Dylan and all the cover artists are operating at over 100 and I could listen to this thing for centuries

anyways— look— all’ve what I’m tryin’ to say is: this movie’s a genuinely once-in-a-lifetime work of art and I’m truly inspired by inventive pieces like this— and I can see myself watching it in the past, present, and future— ever changing like ourselves— after all— like some guy once said:

"I don't think I'm tangible to myself. I mean, I think one thing today and I think another thing tomorrow. I change during the course of a day. I wake and I'm one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I'm somebody else. I don't know who I am most of the time. It doesn't even matter to me."

~~~

PS— if I had to rank all the Bobs, it’d be:
1. Cate Blanchett
2. Marcus Carl Franklin
3. Richard Gere
4. Heath Ledger
5. Christian Bale
6. Ben Whishaw

they’re all phenomenal though ❤︎

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