A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mr. Nobody is a 2009 science fiction movie in which Jared Leto plays "the last living mortal" at the end of the 21st century. The circular and at times elusive overall themes and storyline make this a difficult movie for younger viewers. But for fans of speculative sci-fi exploring deep concepts of time, the universe, mortality, memory, and humanity, this is a movie that constantly engages the mind and rewards repeated viewings. In terms of content, there are some scenes of teen sex between a stepbrother and stepsister (brief nudity, female breasts). These same teens smoke pot and are shown high. As the movie explores the various directions a dying man's life might have gone, there are scenes of a car accident in which the lead character loses control of his vehicle and drives off a cliff and drowns, another when as a teen he wrecks his motorcycle and ends up bandaged and injured in the hospital, and another in which a truck filled with flammable material explodes. In another scenario, a woman he is married to struggles with what appears to be either severe depression or bipolar disorder, bedridden and sad interspersed with moments of mania and paranoia. Profanity includes "f--k."
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What's the story?
It's the year 2092, and MR. NOBODY (Jared Leto), a man named Nemo in his late 110s, is on his death bed, the last mortal human on the planet. He's an obvious source of worldwide fascination, so an intrepid journalist and a psychiatrist interview Nemo to find out what life was like before the immortality of the human race. Through a series of flashbacks that could be memory, or completely made up, or speculations on what might have been, the movie follows the life of a boy who chose to live with his father instead of his mother when forced to choose between them after their divorce, showing the women he might have married, the children he might have had, the highs and lows of his life, and so on. This is all interspersed with surreal worlds where everyone wears argyle, or a trip to Mars where he honors the request of one of his possible wives to scatter her ashes on the Martian surface, and explanations of string theory, the butterfly effect, entropy, and how these ideas of theoretical physics also impact the seemingly infinite directions one's life could go. Soon it appears that the big bang of the universe in which Nobody is on his deathbed begins to retract in time and space into "the big crunch," returning in time and space to the young boy faced with the most difficult and pivotal decision of his life.
Is it any good?
At first, this movie feels like it's trying too hard to be unclear; it feels disorienting and unwieldy and lost in a sea of artsy pretension. But then the dizziness turns into a kind of wonder not often experienced in the three-act factory-grade formulaic structures of the predictable Hollywood movie. The confusion is still there, but it lessens, and it's easy to get into the spirit of the thing. Mr. Nobody is a beautiful movie, with allusions to everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Solaris to even Harold and Maude, and with reflections on the nature of human memory that echo the very best novels of Vladimir Nabokov, on the themes of labyrinths and infinity explored in the work of Jorge Luis Borges, and a kind of magical realism that's as much Kafka as it is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
It seems inevitable that a movie such as Mr. Nobody would be a cult favorite, and it's easy to see its stature increasing in the future in a way similar to how the mysteries-wrapped-in-enigmas of Twin Peaks have found so many new admirers since its first appearance. It's the kind of movie that will inspire debate about its different meanings, on the significance of this scene or the symbolism of that object. As well it should. It's a much-needed reminder of what film can be at its most audacious, daring, and challenging.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the themes of Mr. Nobody. What are they, and how were they explored?
Most movies follow a very basic three-act structure in which certain themes, conflicts, and plot points are supposed to happen to build the story arc and build to a resolution. How is the structure of this movie different? Was it harder to follow because of its unusual structure?
Is this a movie you would watch again, and if so, do you think it would increase your understanding and appreciation of it? What are some examples of movies that get better with repeated viewings?
- In theaters: November 6, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: February 25, 2014
- Cast: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger
- Director: Jaco Van Dormael
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Science and Nature
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Some sexuality/nudity, brief strong language and violent images.
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