knocked for six

Who can resist a post on February 29th, a day so lazy it takes four years to roll out of bed, locate mismatching socks and a dressing gown, and turn up for breakfast.

Last night I watched I’m Not There, the film written by Tod Haynes and Oren Moverman, and directed by Tod Haynes. This biopic, inspired by the life of musician Bob Dylan, is unusal because it was completed without any contribution from Dylan, and there are six actors portraying different aspects of Dylan’s character (described in the film as: poet, prophet, outlaw, fake, star of electricity, and a ghost).

I’m not knowledgeable about Dylan’s life, but I do have a passing familiarity with some of his music. However, I’m a fan of other films by Haynes, such as Far From Heaven and Velvet Goldmine. So, my desire to see the film was not fuelled by a need to know more about Dylan. Anyone who goes to this film with that goal might be disappointed.

From my perspective this film is primarily an examination of the elastic relationship between a creator and his work. It’s a rumination upon identity, and how an artist cycles through personas as a reaction to external and internal pressures, and the effect this has upon her creative process. It also ponders the notion of artistic responsibility.

This film demands much from the audience and expects you to keep up. The different Dylan characters are rotated through the film in a non-chronological order, and seem to spring from the emotional point being studied at that section rather than from a linear framework. The effect is disconcerting at times, and some of the Dylans work better than others. Cate Blanchette’s version seems to have the most screen time, and her performance is excellent.

I found the film built up into a deep and fascinating foray into the layers of a person’s life (I should say, lives). It’s not entirely successful, but for a great deal of the time the film mesmerised me. Haynes direction is evocative, lush, and contains a strong surreal element towards the end with Richard Gere’s Dylan. I suspect people will find that persona the most difficult, but I thought it was an exegesis of the influences–historical, mythological, social, and political–that informed the basis of the Dylan creative headspace. Therefore it’s quixotic and strange. Of course, since Dylan had no part in the project it might reflect a great deal more upon Haynes and his approach to creative endeavours.

Personally, I enjoyed the film but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. By the end I wanted to listen to lots more of Bob Dylan’s music and do a bit of research on his life so I could better slot the puzzle pieces into place. I couldn’t watch a film like this every day of the week, but I’m thankful this kind of experimental cinema continues to be made.


  • brendan

    Hi Maura, I’m a big Dylan fan myself, and I know several even bigger Dylan fans who didn’t like this movie, but I loved it utterly. Precisely because it didn’t fit my expectations at all. Cate Blanchett’s bit will probably get all the attention, and deservedly so, but the Richard Gere / Billy the Kid bit is the one that really resonates with me. Don’t really know why that is, but I’m glad it does…Best of all, it made me go back and listen to my old Dylan records, which can never be a bad thing. 🙂

    • Maura

      Glad to hear some fans liked the film. 🙂 Mostly, to me it was about the complexities of the relationship between the artist and his/her creation, and how that impacts upon perceived and imagined identities. It’s not an easy film, but I don’t mind that. Sometimes I like being challenged. 🙂

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