I’m Not There (2007)

Published on October 12th, 2011

Alex recommends the Bob Dylan biopic that isn’t really about Bob Dylan, I’m Not There.

When I’m Not There was released in 2007, it was generally well liked by critics, but the common person was confused by it. It was apparently a biopic of one of the most famous American musicians, but it wasn’t really. The movie begins with a pretentious but mostly accurate text blurb saying, “Inspired by the music and the many lives of Bob Dylan,” which is to say it features six different characters in different stories who are all Bob Dylan in some way. It’s tough to explain, but that’s also why the movie is great.

Directed by Todd Haynes, I’m Not There features Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin as the parts of Dylan’s life, be it more fact-based (Blanchett as a Don’t Look Back era Dylan) or a bit more adventurous (Gere as Billy the Kid). The cinematography is gorgeous, the acting is generally good, and the use of music is effective. But the Bob Dylan aspects of this movie aren’t what make it interesting, and are probably why the movie never found any sort of mass acceptance. Despite the fact that the following phrase will read like ‘I’m smarter than you,’ the movie was simply tough to understand.

I had no interest in Bob Dylan’s life and only a vague interest in his career when this movie was released, and that barely changed after seeing I’m Not There. I might have been more into listening to The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll because of the scene where the Christian Bale version of Dylan performs it, but I did not run out and buy The Times They Are a-Changin’ when I left the cinema. I’ll never read a page of Bob Dylan: Chronicles; all of Haynes’ set design, costume, and plot details inspired by Dylan’s life were completely lost on me. But I feel like Haynes would be alright with that, because he made a movie about a man that also happened to be a movie about every man (and woman).

The idea behind I’m Not There is that our lives change through different phases; you are more or less a different person as a child than you are as a forty year old. There will still be similar aspects, but important things that used to define you will change. And the more time passes since seeing this movie in 2007, the more incredible this movie becomes. Not only is it an interesting idea, but it’s almost indisputably true. I have no idea what I’ll be like in ten years, and I barely remember who I was ten years ago. Despite that being slightly depressing, it mostly reaffirms that life will continue to be interesting. If everything stayed constant, there would be no reason to do anything. I’m Not There is a movie about Bob Dylan, yeah, but it’s (almost) just as much about you.

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