“All I can do is be me. Whoever that is”
Bob Dylan was once quoted saying this. This quote is the basis for Todd Haynes’ fascinating and wildly bizarre new film I’m Not There. The film features six different actors, from Christian Bale to Cate Blanchett, playing a fictional character that in some way portrays a part of Bob Dylan’s life. To call I’m Not There a conventional biopic would not only be somewhat of a lie, but it would not be doing the film enough justice. Haynes has crafted one of the most entertaining, bizarre and original experimental movies. This is his follow up to 2002’s widely acclaimed Far From Heaven, and comparing the two pictures only show the versatility of Todd Haynes as a filmmaker. Walking out of the screening, I thought to myself, I have not seen anything this original since 1999’s Being John Malkovich.
The first Bob Dylan character that we are introduced to is Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), a young African-American boy travelling to who knows where by train. He is a young precocious boy who loves to share his music with others. He has the voice of a great blues artist, and the ability to play the guitar like a seasoned professional. He meets a few gentlemen on one of his train rides, and Woody tries to persuade them of his musical ability. Of course, nobody takes this young kid to be a serious musician.
Cate Blanchett is Jude, the next Bob Dylan who Haynes focuses heavily on. Blanchett undergoes a transformation that, surprisingly enough, makes her the most convincing Dylan of them all. Blanchett deepened her voice and altered her appearance to become the most realistically looking Dylan in the film. Her character, Jude, receives the backlash that Dylan received due to some of his more controversial songs. We also get to see glimpses of a romance that once occurred between Jude and Coco Rivington (Michelle Williams). Coco is a young socialite who interacts with Jude at the parties. Their relationship kept reminding me of last year’s Factory Girl, where Sienna miller played famed party girl Edie Sedgwick and Hayden Christiansen played a musician that resembled Bob Dylan.
In between, Christian Bale plays a folk singer turned pastor named Jack Rollins. Ben Winshaw plays Arthur, who tells his story through a straightforward documentary style interview. Heath Ledger has another one of the film’s largest segments as Robbie Clark, an actor who marriage is on the rocks with a French painter named Clair (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Then there is Richard Gere as Billy the Kid, an outlaw living in on a frontier. His segment is probably the one that left me scratching my head the most in terms of the story. After a while, I just did not care and went with it.
I’m Not There is a kaleidoscopic homage to Bob Dylan, not a factual biography chronicling his life. The film is a bit convoluted at times, but there is so much great material here that it does not even matter. Cate Blanchett does great work as Jude. For me, she was the most convincing Dylan in terms of look, mannerisms and emotions.
After seeing I’m Not There, I’m glad I was there.
I’m Not There
Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale
Rated: R (for language, some sexuality\nudity)