(directed by Jaco Van Dormael, 2009)
***+ (out of 5)
> What a difficult film to review. (What a difficult film to watch!)
. There’s got to be a reason Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael made this one film and no others. I’m guessing it had something to do with the fact that this apparently big budget extravaganza did little or no box office in its theatrical release, because it’s certainly not for lack of talent and ideas! The startlingly original first act is unabashedly brilliant. Dazzling images dance on the corneas and eardrums of the viewer. MR. NOBODY is simply packed with visual and editing surprises that amaze and delight, with a crisp artistic sensibility that invokes slick TV commercials.
. But the minute the (several) romances kick in, this wildly uneven film became that most egregious of cinematic entities: it became boring, and the film all but crept to a halt. Too bad, because MR. NOBODY is a strange and truly original story about a 118 year old man, in the final days of his life, well played by Jared Leto, in perpetual wide-eyed wonderment, like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. In this future world, “Nemo Nobody” is the last mortal human, and the entire world is watching his final moments and taking a populist vote on whether he should receive the gene enhancement technology that makes people virtually immortal, or whether nature should be allowed (for the last time) to run its course. During this process, Nemo is being interviewed about his lifestory, but the tales he tells seem to make no sense. The stories are mutually exclusive, and cannot possibly all be true. Again, as in Slaughterhouse Five it seems as though time has been thrown into a blender and stripped of it’s natural order. Today, yesterday and tomorrow all seem to exist concurrently, and Nemo appears to have lived different lives, with different families and different fates. Yet, he insists that they are all him. Nemo has lived all these moments because he has never made a conscious choice in his life- fearing that any decision would block out all other possibilities. So each of these loose threads were different real possibilities- consequences of the choices he could have made. The concept of non-linear time dictates editing that is so wild and disjointed that one begins to wonder if it will ever make sense. And it doesn’t, really. It’s the same tricky editing used in CATCH 22- only what worked so well there does not work at all here. The result is a mess of a film.
. The thing is- what a fascinating mess it is! Until the film loses and then finds its way again near the end, the images throughout are so extraordinarily eye-popping, it seems you are watching a Tarsem Singe film- the visual genius behind THE CELL and THE FALL. This one-shot wonder had ideas! But Dormael seems to throw them all at the viewer hoping something will stick. When Nemo’s three possible wives come into the picture, nothing does. Poor Sarah Polley (a very skilled actress), has a horribly thankless role as a severely depressed alternate wife. When she is onscreen, the film gets as depressed as she is, becoming very, flat and boring. During this midsection, I had to work to stay with it, in the hope Jaco was keeping his powder dry for a final salvo. And there were still great images to come- if little to no coherence. (Including one unforgettable shot of hundreds of loose bicycles orbiting Mars after a catastrophic explosion. Mesmerizing!)
. Despite these serious faults, I rated the film highly, awarding points for sheer audacity and an extraordinary imagination. See it, but be prepared to be patient.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.