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I'm Not Here

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
I'm Not Here Movie Poster Image
Heavy drama explores alcoholism, possibility of do-overs.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 81 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages depend on viewer's interpretation of film's approach to explaining scientific concept of quantum superposition, but a positive take is that forgiveness (even toward yourself) can set you free.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No notably admirable characters.

Violence

A man who has suicidal ideation repeatedly holds a gun to his head. A child hears a gunshot, finds body of a man who died by suicide (feet, gun are seen). Implication of small child being struck by car. Characters who are upset speak sharply to one another.

Sex

Rise and subsequent disintegration of a marriage is depicted, starting with the couple having passionate sex the same night they meet. Other sexual acts are implied; a child finds photos of his dad in a clothed, standing embrace with someone. An older, sickly man's backside is flashed twice in a nonsexual context. 

Language

"Oh my God."

Consumerism

Swanson's TV dinners are the impetus for one scene, but the brand isn't prominently displayed. A half-eaten Snickers bar is in an empty fridge.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hereditary nature of alcoholism is a major theme. Bottles of vodka are everywhere, and beer, cocktails, straight liquor are consumed frequently -- including by two children. A child makes his father a drink, then drinks it himself. A comedian makes a joke about being high on "weed." 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I’m Not Here is an intense, heavy sci-fi drama that explores the thought experiment known as Schrödinger's Cat -- i.e., the theory that an outcome isn't real until it's observed. The story is full of tragedy hinging on the intended suicide of a depressed alcoholic (J.K. Simmons). While no actual violence is shown, viewers see a man hold a gun to his head, a child finds a body (feet shown), and several deaths occur off-camera. The demise of two marriages is chronicled, and there's quite a bit of sex. The movie can be seen as a powerful warning about the legacy of alcoholism and the habits that kids pick up from watching their parents. But ultimately, what you see in the film depends on your own point of view -- i.e., what you observe. It's meant to spark conversation and debate, so while it's not for kids, make sure you watch it with someone else so you can talk about it afterward.

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What's the story?

In I'M NOT HERE, an alcoholic named Steve (J.K. Simmons) grapples with his past as he considers ending his life. As he remembers all of the events that have shaped his life, he realizes the generational pain that was passed on to him -- and that his own hope lies in forgiveness.

Is it any good?

This drama may end up having a long shelf life in high school classrooms as the definitive movie that explains Schrödinger's Cat, a quantum mechanics thought experiment embraced by pop culture. I'm Not Here isn't fun to watch, but it sure is fun to discuss, and it will likely put Google and science teachers to work answering questions from curious students trying to understand quantum entanglement and whether it can be applied to our human lives.

Small clues are dropped throughout the movie like random bread crumbs, making it hard to miss a moment -- and it's crucial to keep watching through the credits to the very final frame. Simmons rolls out a wowzer of a performance without uttering a line, but he's just one member of an impressive cast that boasts familiar faces in even the smallest of roles. Don't blink, or you'll miss Lost's Harold Perrineau as a bartender or David Koechner as a divorce lawyer. The film isn't great, but that seems to be the status quo for films that explore different life outcomes. Still, just like The Butterfly Effect or Sliding Doors, it may well become a reference point that holds on through the decades.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the hypothetical Schrödinger's Cat experiment. What do you think about it? Why do you think people enjoy exploring the idea of the cat being both alive and dead?

  • I'm Not Here addresses the hereditary nature of alcoholism. Do you think kids are influenced by the way the media portrays drinking? Do you think it's usually shown as a positive or a negative experience? 

  • How do you think I'm Not Here ended? Who's really dead, and who's really alive? What do you think happened when middle-aged and old Steve saw each other? Is there any application to real life?

  • Parents, talk to your kids about suicide. What makes some people think that it's their only option? Where can people in despair turn for help?

  • The film is a family affair: Michelle Schumacher produces, writes, and directs, her husband (Simmons) stars, and their musician son, Joe, is the sound designer. If you and your family made a movie, what would it be about? What job would each of you take?

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Themes & Topics

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