I'm Not There

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
I'm Not There Movie Poster Image
Well-acted, mature Dylan biopic for big fans only.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 135 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Suggests that even in a celebrity-obsessed culture, you never really know who an artist is, as he may be various different versions of himself all at once.

Violence

Cartoonish image of young Woody being swallowed by a whale and a fantasy sequence of Jude and his band machine-gunning the crowd at a concert (it's a metaphor for Dylan going electric). Disturbing scene in which a murdered young woman is propped up in her coffin for everyone at a funeral to see. A child pets a dead horse.

Sex

A couple of artistic lovemaking scenes -- in one, breasts are visible. There's a glimpse of a full-frontal Heath Ledger as he emerges out of the shower. Several kisses and three images of men's buttocks.

Language

More prevalent in some sequences than others. Words include "s--t," "a--hole," "c--ksucker," "tit," "f--k," "bitch," "p---y," "goddamn," etc.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pill-popping during '60s mod scenes; cigarette smoking throughout. Minor social drinking.

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.

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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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the film's messages about artists, fame, music, and authenticity. What points do you think the director was trying to make? How is the film vastly different than other musicians' biopics?

Movie details

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