How do you tell a story about a man who is bottomless and so meditative that his split personalities have enough conviction and character to walk on their own? You let them do that.
Todd Haynes’s biographical film ‘I’m Not There’ is not an introductory film like ‘Walk The Line,’ which introduced Johnny Cash to scores of younger listeners and cajoled an obligated appreciation for the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll music by making it trendy. Rather than grinding his sound into the viewers, Haynes’s film, based on his short story, is creative fiction that explores Dylan’s ability to continually reinvent himself.
Casting six different actors as partially fictionalized interpretations of Dylan, Haynes suggests that whatever the message or the attitude, these personas were ruled by one man with an unerring philosophy, though perhaps a self-destructive one. True to the idea of reinvention, Dylan’s name is nowhere in the movie.
An unreliable social leader, he pointed his finger at the people on the pulpit of society and then was forced to stand there himself. But by remaining the center of his world and sending out his different personas, Dylan became an indelible rock influence for tortuous and experimental youth.
His belief that music can’t change anything is woven throughout. Freedom is defined as being able to be oneself (‘living a certain way’) and he is always questioned. The only freedom Dylan can achieve, then, is to reinvent or to create who he is and who he appears to be. It is a morphing that prolongs his ability to be the spirit of a generation as ‘poet, prophet, outlaw, fake and god of electricity.’
The storytelling is full of childishness, from the 11-year-old incarnation of Dylan (who calls himself Woody Guthrie after his mentor) to Dylan as the late 17th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud to Dylan as an ‘infant Shakespeare’ who did all of his creative writing before the age of 21 to a likely scene in which Dylan (Cate Blanchett) makes a late entrance by rolling on the grass and giggling in sped-up time with four young men in similar black suits