Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

I’m Not There


I’m Not There (2007) About halfway through this “rumination on the life of Bob Dylan,” I asked myself, what would be the point of making a standard biopic about the former Mr. Zimmerman? I mean, it would be largely guesswork. No one has worked harder to be obscure in all aspects of his life, to be incoherent and stumbling in interviews to the point that we wonder, could this disheveled, muttering homunculus really have written all that amazing stuff? (Maybe Joan Baez wrote those songs, huh?) I guess that maybe 50 years from now someone might make a straight bio, like the recent ones of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, but it would be purely for educational purposes. All it could do is recite events, and aside from the infamous Showdown at Newport his life doesn’t seem to have been all that dramatic, film-wise. It wouldn’t tell you anything about Dylan, because he refuses to really tell us anything about himself.

And why not? If you’ve seen the horror of the adulation, and then the angry rejection, of all the people who wanted to pound him into a mold of their own expectations, as shown so brilliantly in Don’t Look Back, how could you fault him for mumbling non sequiturs, for endlessly putting on all the earnest interviewers who can only relate to a genius by finding the right pigeonhole for him so they can write a newspaper article or a doctoral dissertation? (I can hear Dylan chortling at that idea.)
So now we have this cinematic meditation, approved by Dylan—that is, he gave the okay to use his own performances of his songs in it. I have no idea if he read the script. And, to me, it’s about a third of a great movie. I suspect it’s a different movie to every viewer, because it’s stream of consciousness and makes little attempt to make sense, like Dylan himself. We have six people playing “Dylan,” (though none of them are named that).

1. Marcus Carl Franklin, a black boy who looks about 10 but I suspect may be older, and who calls himself Woody Guthrie. This is the blues aspect of Dylan, his perceived wish to be a hobo, a troubadour, a rolling stone.

2. Ben Whishaw, who is being interviewed or testifying, and whose segments made very little sense to me.

3. Christian Bale, who is a folk singer who finds Jesus.

4. Heath Ledger, an actor, whose story is about marriage, infidelity, and divorce, and for the life of me I can’t think of why this is in the movie.

5. Cate Blanchett, the only one of the 6 who attempts an impersonation, and who absolutely freaking nails the part, recreating the era of Don’t Look Back in black and white.

6. Richard Gere, who is … no kidding … an aging Billy the Kid, living in a surreal western town with surreal people and a giraffe I half expected to burst into flames, like a Salvador Dali painting. I have very little idea what this segment is doing here, what it is trying to suggest. “Desolation Row?”

So the only parts that worked for me were #1 and #5. Some of the others had things to recommend them, but ultimately pretty much wasted my time. (The film is 2 hours and 15 minutes long, and might have worked better at 90 minutes.) But the part that works the best, and is worth seeing the whole movie just for these nuggets of brilliance, is #5. It is absolutely uncanny. She even does her own singing, and though it is just a little bit higher pitched than Dylan, it doesn’t matter, because she has his nasal enunciation. I’m still glad (and amazed) that Tilda Swinton won the Best Supporting Oscar last year, but it was a close one, my friends, it was a close one.