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Brief Film Review: I’m Not There

On Thanksgiving, we took advantage of the holiday mellowness to see I’m Not There, the Bob Dylan “biopic” known best for having 6 people play different aspects of Dylan’s character and career. I’m no Dylan aficionado (I don’t own any of his albums), but I’m definitely aware of him and his milieu — raised middle class Jewish in Minnesota, remade himself into a Woody Guthrie-like folkie in the West Village (and squiring Joan Baez), then remade himself again as a plugged-in rock-and-roller, before flaming out, finding Jesus, etc. etc.

Unfortunately, such general knowledge doesn’t seem to be enough. From what I can tell, I’M NOT THERE is a treat for aficionados, packed with references and allusions to Dylaniana, but as an “interested layperson,” it struck me as a very ambitious film whose reach exceeded its grasp. Todd Haynes clearly had distinct ideas as to how he wanted to express Dylan’s life, and he should be commended for attempting something poetic and challenging, but it simply doesn’t come together as a good, engaging, lose-yourself-to-it film.

The disjointed nature of the narrative renders the film as a series of set pieces, some fun and/or interesting (particularly those with Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger) and some not (Christian Bale, Richard Gere). As a view, this narrative approach also kept me at arm’s length from the story, making me an observer, as opposed to a member of an audience, which limited my ability to engage emotionally… You get too caught up in the way Todd Haynes is telling the story that you don’t get caught up in the story itself.

Anyway, I would say for most folks, they can simply pass on this film — you’re not missing out on anything major or important from a cinematic standpoint.

  1. Just got back from seeing the movie, myself. I am one of those aficionados. With the exception of Gere’s sequences I’d have to say the movie was fantastic. But I’d agree it would likely only be so for an aficionado.

    I was able to get lost in it. Not so much in the narrative, which was quite disjointed–though to me not in a distracting way–but rather in seeing perhaps the best (only?) example of a 4-D collage, and one that brings added interest to the disjointed items of Dylan’s history, those both true and not, owing to their unexpected juxtaposition with each other.

    I’d have to say the cinematography and attention to detail in reconstructing moments out of the not too distant past were well executed.

    With the exception of Gere’s sequences, which were probably the weakest moments of the movie, I thought many of the performances were very well pulled off as well.

  2. I haven’t seen this, but I know that Todd Hayes can get a little too referential. It was an enhancement in Far From Heaven, but it sounds like it doesn’t work here.

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