Writer-director Todd Haynes deconstructs, reconstructs, embraces and inventively plays with the myth and reality of Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There,” a phantasmagoric romp that presents the music legend as a string of incarnations — folk poet, protest singer, pop icon, outlaw.
Haynes doesn’t get to the core of his subject, in truth. He makes the facets captivating, however. Dylan junkies as well as fans of nonconformist cinema should take note of this trippy semi-biodrama.
Haynes, whose filmography includes the Sirkian “Far From Heaven” and the glam-rocky “Velvet Goldmine,” now delivers a 1960s-rooted story that ranges in style from D.A. Pennebaker to Fellini and transpires somewhere in the orbit of an icon. Like Todd Solondz’s less cohesive “Palindromes,” the film, which is “inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan,” presents its subject as a series of personas. A half-dozen actors play him.
First up is Dylan as a tale-
spinning black 11-year-old (Marcus Carl Franklin) who rides the rails and calls himself Woody Guthrie. Next comes Jack (Christian Bale), a folk and protest singer and, later, a born-again preacher. Robbie (Heath Ledger), an egotistical actor, portrays Jack and represents Dylan’s romantic life via scenes with French painter Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Arthur (Ben Wishaw), as in Rimbaud, is Dylan the poet.
Jude (Cate Blanchett!), the centerpiece Dylan, is a limelight-soaked rock star resembling Dylan in his “Don’t Look Back” phase. Finally, Billy (Richard Gere) represents Dylan in outlaw mode and references Dylan’s appearance in Sam Peckinpah’s “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.”
On the downside, Haynes tells us nothing deep or revelatory about Dylan. The Gere passage is overlong and fuzzy.
But as exhilarating moviemaking, the film’s a triumph, and as a trip to Cloud Dylan, it’s a treat. Haynes and cowriter Oren Moverman provide a wealth of tidbits — everything from a tarantula image (referring to Dylan’s freewheeling novel) to Dylan cavorting with the Beatles. Blanchett, with frizzy hair and shades, is uncanny as the mid-1960s Dylan, a mix of true genius and posing. “God, I’m glad I’m not me,” Blanchett’s Jude says, reading a newspaper article about himself.
There’s also the music, of course, which, included plentifully, captures the essence of Dylan where the rest of the film can only try. Cat Power, Sonic Youth and Richie Havens are among those providing stellar cover material. Dylan himself closes the film, playing “Mr. Tambourine Man” on harmonica.
I’m Not There
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger
Written by Todd Haynes, Oren Moverman
Directed by Todd Haynes
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes