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Like a Complete Unknown

26 Nov

“I’m just a songwriter,” one of the six — count ’em, six — Bob Dylan stand-ins says during I’m Not There. Well, forgive me for calling this character a liar, but as the film makes clear, Bob Dylan isn’t just anything. Todd Haynes’ portrait of the man born Robert Zimmerman paints him as a poet, an actor, a troubador, a misunderstood genius, an ahead-of-his-time songwriter, a lost man, etc. Bob Dylan is many things to many people, and to say that I’m Not There doesn’t give a definitive answer about the man isn’t to say it misses the boat. Rather, in celebrating many aspects of Dylan, it reaches near-great status.

Eschewing the conventional bio-pic format of, say, Walk the Line — or really, any musician movie with a plot — I’m Not There casts six different types of actors as characters who each symbolize one aspect of the Bob Dylan legend. To wit: one is played by a young black child (Marcus Carl Franklin) and another by a woman (Cate Blanchett). Others are played by Richard Gere and Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and newcomer Ben Whishaw. Writer/Director Haynes uses different film stocks and directing styles for each segment, and jumps between them, creating a collage rather than a narrative explanation of how Dylan got to where he is. Dates are mentioned, but really, with the exception of the Jude Quinn section, they could be happening anytime. And it’s worth noting that while Cate Blanchett is as good as you’ve heard, all the acting in this movie is good. Blanchett just has the nice luxury of having the most showy of all the performances.

I wish I knew more about Bob Dylan, so I could catch on to more of the references than I did. I suspect that while I think I’m Not There is a good movie, I don’t even realize how good it is. But on the surface level that I can appreciate it, I’m Not There is a fascinating film, unlike anything I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s definitely enjoyable and worth seeing, whether you’re a Dylan fan or not. I’m giving I’m Not There an A–.