I’m Not There (Haynes, 2007)

Destined to be dissected and analyzed by film students and critics for years, I’m Not There functions as a text book art film, using jump cuts, flash forwards, elliptical editing and an ambiguous ending etc. to deconstruct the many identities of Bob Dylan, both fictional and fantastical. The film’s revolving structure seeps with ambition and some untimely self indulgence (Haynes uses six different actors as a mosaic of the Dylan myth), but one can’t deny the beautiful affect most of the actors have on the story, especially Richard Gere’s lonely and poetic version of Billy the Kid and Heath Ledger’s destructive and conflicted actor. All the hype about Cate Blanchett’s 1960’s thin and wild Dylan is warranted, however these scenes elicit a repetitive and soulless nature compared to Haynes’ other five story-lines. If I’m Not There wishes to transcend identity to get at the heart of an artist’s struggle, it succeeds greatly, moving through multiple universes with jarring cuts linked only by minor overlaps of character and Dylan’s resounding music. But something feels off about Haynes’ beautiful and invigorating love letter to the Dylan legend. This mostly has to do with the first hour, which haplessly roles around with an uneven Mockumentary about Christian Bale’s Jack, a protest singer turned preacher, never letting the actor out of the stranglehold that medium wields. Haynes has linked each character with different aesthetic interpretations, and I think anyone in love with the cinema can appreciate his genius for undertaking such a venture. That doesn’t make the final result any more interesting since certain performances and scenes greatly outplay others. I’m Not There will inevitably evolve with multiple viewings, because the meticulous layering and visual design play a huge role. But at first glance, Haynes’ film feels like one artist’s fruitless longing to understand the complex nature of another, an idol who doesn’t care to be understood, just left alone. Nothing more, nothing less.

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