I'm Not There (2007)

There are a few hints within this film’s opening minutes that indicate this would not be your typical cradle to the grave biopic. An opening caption that informs us it is inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan; a rapid-fire introduction of the several actors who portray those lives; and a voice over eulogy for the recently departed singer who, despite appearances, was still very much alive at the time of filming.

Embodying Dylan at this stage of the story is Cate Blanchett, whose depiction of Jude Quinn recalls the version documented in D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back.  Similarly,  Christian Bale’s Jack Rollins is not only the subject of a documentary, but also a biopic starring Heath Ledger’s Robbie Clark, whose personal life mirrors Dylan's. Other incarnations include Ben Whishaw’s Arthur Rimbaud, Marcus Carl Franklin’s Woody and Richard Gere’s Billy McCarty, who appears to be a reference to Dylan’s participation in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

A few of these characters briefly share the same time, space or nemesis, yet they remain separate identities in isolated vignettes. Slicing and dicing their stories together in a non-linear fashion only compounds the remoteness of the piece. Though one can appreciate the artistry of director Todd Haynes, working from a script he co-wrote with Oren Moverman, any attempt to uncover an insight into Dylan’s life will surely result in the same fate as the fan who seeks to interpret the true meanings behind his lyrics. 

As it is, I’m Not There remains the biopic equivalent of making The Three Faces of Eve… without Eve.

Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw
Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett

as Jude Quinn

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Richard Gere
Richard Gere

as Billy McCarty

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Christian Bale
Christian Bale

as Jack Rollins

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Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger

as Robbie Clark

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fact check, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

Though the film never pretends to be an accurate depiction of the singer, there are many sequences that parallel events in Dylan’s life, including 

  • his visit to Woody Guthrie in hospital

  • playing electric guitar at a folk festival

  • meeting and smoking marijuana with The Beatles

  • engaging with an audience member who called him “Judas” during a concert in England.

  • being criticised for making the following remarks at the NECLC’s Bill of Rights dinner - “I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don't know exactly where, what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too, I saw some of myself in him.”

Marcus Carl Franklin, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie

Clip courtesy of Dimitri Bitu

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