I’m Not There

I haven’t seen the right kind of review for I’m Not There yet. While critics struggle to shove the title into the review template that made up years ago, readers and movie-goers alike are finding out that it just doesn’t fit.

And it doesn’t fit because it’s not a typical narrative structure. Your average critic can’t comment on how the protagonist’s development seems forced near the end of the second act or that the sub-plot seemed to take emphasis away from the main story line. The pacing is almost unapproachable. Character interaction is limited. The plot synopsis on IMDB remains unsurprisingly empty. Hell, even the name trips up some of the most intrepid, professional appreciators.

This, of course, is most of what makes I’m Not There so achingly beautiful. It is an undeniable force, written and directed by an Oscar nominee who’s lived outside the spotlight for most of his career. After this, director Todd Haynes may be finding himself living in that light from now on.

The film is a patchwork of brilliant themes encircling the music and enigmatic lives of Bob Dylan – a young charmer, a poet, a rising star, a musical icon, a troubled lover, a religious messenger, and an ancient outlaw. The lines sometimes flow naturally and sometimes interrupt each other with scattershot scenes that echo the sentiments that tie them all together. Each is a separate story (for lack of a better word) that bolsters the others and the already massive mystique of Dylan.

With outstanding performances from Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger and newcomer Marcus Carl Franklin, the outline of Bob Dylan’s life is drawn without regard to time, space or gender. In a sense, all the characters are wandering drifters. They are young and black, hip and gifted, white and outraged, artistic and female, grizzled and male. And they are all Dylan.

With a film like this, you shouldn’t worry about what each plot line has in store for its characters – but concentrate instead on the experience as a whole. Although the stories are compelling, the moods and symbolism of each character do more to shape the film than the actions of its players. Most of the dialog is delivered in brilliant snippets and quotable one-liners – whether from the likable, smug artist Jude (Cate Blanchett), the fidgety genius Arthur (Ben Whishaw) or the child prodigy Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin) who ends almost every aphorism with a smile.

If the abstract nature of it all frightens you, the more traditional filmmaking that follows Robbie (Heath Ledger), an actor whose marriage is collapsing, will help ease you into the wading pool of high art. Which is exactly what I’m Not There is. It is consistently beautiful, the shots are innovative, the dialog magnetic, the editing throws out tradition in favor of something better. But at the same time, the film is incredibly accessible. It’s not two hours that will leave some scratching their heads as they wander out into the lobby wondering if they needed to be bigger Dylan fans to ‘get’ something.

This film shows how different one person can be. It succeeds in painting the time period without resorting to clichés. It’s trippy without being psychedelic. It’s haunting without having to fetishize drug use. Bob Dylan’s personality is strange enough without it. Todd Haynes knew this, and the result is a magnificent movie that left my mind racing, my mouth speechless, and the rest of me aching to see it again.

Grade: A

Im Not There Poster Release Date: November 21, 2007
Rated: R for language, some sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 135 min.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin
Director: Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Todd Haynes, Oren Moverman
Studio: The Weinstein Co.
Official Website: Click Here

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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