A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this experimental meditation on the "many lives of Bob Dylan" will go straight over the head of most younger viewers. Older teens who've been exposed to Dylan's music may be curious about the drama, but its metaphoric nature means it probably won't appeal to most of them -- or to non-fan adults, for that matter. Without a fair amount of knowledge of Dylan's music and life, the film will seem confusing and slow. There are a few love scenes and shots of naked breasts and buttocks, not to mention one quick full-frontal flash of a post-shower Heath Ledger. Expect some language (standard R-rated stuff), a bit of '60s pill-popping, and lots of smoking.
What's the story?
Director Todd Haynes' film I'M NOT THERE pays tribute to legendary singer, songwriter, and poet Bob Dylan. Ironically, the movie's six main characters are never actually called Bob Dylan; in fact, there's no mention of his name at all except for an "inspired by" credit. (And, of course, the soundtrack is filled with his music.) Instead, the six characters are all metaphoric representations of different facets of Dylan's persona, from an 11-year-old African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) who rides the rails and goes by the name Woody Guthrie to a Greenwich Village-based folk singer named Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) to a hip Hollywood actor (Heath Ledger) whose marriage to a lovely painter (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is failing. There's also a 19-year-old interviewee named Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), aging Old West outlaw Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) and, most thrillingly, Cate Blanchett's's late-'60s icon Jude Quinn. Some of the characters are infinitely more interesting than others, but all are supposed to spark a connection to Dylan's biography.
Is it any good?
Haynes is, stylistically, a master of his craft, and his film is a moving, innovative tribute to Dylan. It's likely that I'm Not There will one day be studied in graduate film courses. But audiences less interested in style than substance will have to make do with Blanchett's sublime performance and the notable work of Bale, Franklin, and Gainsbourg. Each story is also strengthened by its own color palette and accompanying Dylan song.
With such a stream-of-consciousness approach to Dylan's essence, those without extensive background knowledge of the man and his art are left out of the collective joke/excitement/nostalgia. By the time the real singer plays his harmonica, in close-up, at the very end, we've come no further in understanding who the real Dylan is or was -- but it's fascinating, albeit at times frustrating, to guess which parts Haynes got right.
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