“I’m Not There” (currently playing at the Lyric Cinema Café) is one of the most surreal and experimental films I have ever seen.
Its central conceit is the idea of using six different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin) to portray some aspect of Bob Dylan’s multi-faceted personality.
As a devoted Dylan fan, I have been hankering to see this film since it came out last November, but its limited release in the Denver metro area made that somewhat difficult.
But the tragic passing of Heath Ledger last week reminded me of “I’m Not There,” and made me want to see it even more.
And believe me, this is definitely a film worth seeing, especially if you like Dylan, or if you are interested in one of Ledger’s last screen performances.
“I’m Not There” unfolds non-chronologically and alternates between its six different storylines, so there isn’t really a “plot” to describe.
The genius of the film is that it not only manages to shed light on Dylan’s mercurial personality by utilizing six actors to portray him, but that the film’s unconventional and impressionistic structure also manages to approximate what it is like to listen to a Dylan song: sometimes it is confusing, sometimes it is funny, sometimes it’s painfully sad but it is always, always engaging.
Though all the actors acquit themselves well, the two most fascinating performances belong to Blanchett and Ledger.
Blanchett has already received heaps of praise (including a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination) for her portrayal of Dylan circa 1966, and the praise is well-earned.
Blanchett’s Dylan (called Jude in the film) rages against the press while on tour in England, cavorts around with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (David Cross) and, generally, refuses to be defined, especially in political terms.
Blanchett’s performance modulates between madcap and petulant, and the Dylan she reveals is not very likeable.
But Blanchett also finds the humanity in Dylan, especially in a scene where she is told by her manager that there are 80 more shows left on tour, and the look on Blanchett’s face reveals the depth of Jude’s disillusionment.
Then there’s Ledger, who plays a rebel movie star in the ’60s and ’70s named Jack. Jack is pulled in opposite directions by his politically active artist wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and the allure of movie-stardom.
What Ledger does well is reveal a man without a center. His Dylan is the celebrity who became alienated from his art because of his fame.
Not everything in “I’m Not There” works (the sequences with Richard Gere are damn-near incomprehensible), but the film’s sheer ballsiness and ingenuity are enough to make it an unforgettable and worthwhile experience.