I'm Not There may be a brilliant myth-making exercise, a fearsome piece of pop art, a truly fascinating film. It may also be a hollow jumble of post-modern pick-up-sticks -- a chaotic stack of signifiers and images and in-jokes with nothing at the heart. Part of me wants to see it again as soon as possible; crack its codes, follow the arcs, catch anything I missed. I also wanted to not see it ever again -- to let it be a dream, a blur, like a few notes of music that find you at an unexpected moment and you hear the rest of your life.
Six actors, six stories "Inspired by the Life and Music of Bob Dylan." Well, even as a casual Dylan fan (or, more specifically, someone with a copy of Desire on vinyl), I think you've got a lot to work with. And director Todd Haynes -- who co-wrote the script with Oren Moverman -- puts a lot on the screen. A young African American rides the rails playing folk music. An arch, overgrown juvenile delinquent gives cryptic answers to unknown questioners. A folksinger who walked away from it all in the '70s. A '60s vision of style itself stalking London. The actor who played the folksinger, once, in a movie, dealing with fame and family. A hippie-cowboy-monk in some never-was Old West.
And all the Dylans -- none of whom are Dylan -- cross and connect and clash. The youngest is played by African American teen Marcus Carl Franklin. British actor Ben Wishaw is next, cryptic and dry. Christian Bale broods and seethes through a mockumentary. Cate Blanchett staggers and swaggers through Don't Look Back re-imagined as a Fellini fever dream. Heath Ledger's actor drifts through a very '70s California break-up with Charlotte Gainsbourg. Richard Gere wanders in a carnival-western cosmos shot through a haze of dust and sunlight. Like the blind men and the elephant, Haynes and his cast fumble at immensity and come back with distortions, misrepresentations, textures.