Home > Film, Music, Reviews > Film Review: I’m Not There

Film Review: I’m Not There

I’m Not There (2007; Directed by Todd Haynes)

Less a traditional biopic than a complicated, obtuse tone poem on the vague belief-system that is Dylanism, Todd Haynes’ fascinating but inscrutable I’m Not There plays loose with the myths swirling around Dylan’s life (most of them self-perpetuated) but never sacrifices a furiously artsy vision of what Dylan’s music means. That is, if it means anything at all. Either possibility is left entirely open at all times, and that much is to Haynes’ credit.

This group must somehow form a family...

The various “personas” of Dylan portrayed by the cadre of massively talented actors at Haynes’ disposal work with varying degrees of success, but always present firm and interesting theories on the phases of Dylan’s public life. Cate Blanchett’s widely-praised Jude Quinn is the sort of immaculate impersonation of a recognizable figure that the Academy seems to be convinced qualifies as great acting. For all of her tic-ing and quipping amongst the slick setting of the Mod mid-Sixties, only in her encounters with Bruce Greenwood’s pitiless television reporter is anything remotely insightful about Dylan’s intertwined art and identity touched upon.

Marcus Carl Franklin and Richard Gere are similarly patchy in probing the youthful drifter and grizzled reclusive outlaw bookends of Dylan’s career. At least Haynes doesn’t go so anti-subtle as to toss “Song To Woody” on the soundtrack as Franklin’s character visits his dying namesake at a New Jersey hospital, as Dylan was purported to have done. The lamentably-late Heath Ledger is much more powerful as a personification of the mid-70s Blood on the Tracks Dylan, lazily self-involved even as his marriage to Charlotte Gainsbourg unravels; “A Simple Twist of Fate” crops up here, simply the only choice to back these scenes up.

But for my dime, Haynes’ slyly satirical exploration of the protest song period (which he posits as an anticipation of Dylan’s embarrassing born-again Christian period in the ’80s) is the most entertaining and (vitally) funny section of the film, even if it is constantly shunted aside for the other storylines. The naive, cornball pretentiousness of the white-bread folk audience that first embraced Dylan as its Messiah and then demonized him when he dared to evolve before their eyes is well and truly skewered; their reasons for rejecting their one-time hero sound all the more ridiculous for their withering sincerity.

Haynes’ satire is abetted by subtly hilarious performances from Julianne Moore as a Joan Baez proxy and especially from Christian Bale as the Dylan stand-in, Jack Rollins. As always, the genius of Bale’s acting is in the tiniest, easily-missed physical details: the droop of his mouth as he attempts profundity, the deadpan uniformity of his voice as he performs a hilariously meandering “finger-pointing song” with an interminable table metaphor, and the awkward swaying and hand-raising as he sings a gospel song in his reincarnation as a Pentecostal preacher. With all the attention focused on Blanchett and Ledger, Bale gives another underrated yet brilliant performance, something we should have come to expect from the guy as this point but is still welcome whenever we get it.

Of course, in the end, Haynes’ film spends upwards of two hours to conclude that Bob Dylan is an enigma. But he’s an enigma we all have had a hand in creating, and this raggedly post-modern film argues this much convincingly, at least.

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Categories: Film, Music, Reviews
  1. September 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Slam dunkin like Shqauille O\’Neal, if he wrote informative articles.

  1. October 25, 2012 at 7:11 am

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