There is no straightforward narrative to the film—no plot, no chronology, and no thesis, save perhaps that there is no way to ever truly understand Dylan.  In other words, Haynes seems to be mirroring the confusion about Dylan’s life by making a confusing film.  He jumps from character to character, location to location, timeframe to timeframe, all without any logic.  Sometimes, we’re in the magical realm.  Other times, it’s very real indeed.  The cinematography even changes throughout the film, with certain “Dylans” shot in black and white, and others in color.  Occasionally, we also see a few psychedelic images as well.

Some of the “Dylans” portray incidents that occurred in the life of the singer, such as his disastrous 1966 English tour, where audiences revolted after he began playing the electric guitar in Manchester.  (One famously shouted, “Judas!”)  This Dylan, played by Blanchett, showcases the best acting in the film, thanks to her considerable talent.  Likewise, Bale does a good job as the Christian Dylan, although it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction, since that part of his life has been mostly kept under wraps.  This is a problem throughout the film, in fact.

Other Dylans make little sense at all, despite solid performances.  Dylan was never a movie star, for example, even though Ledger plays that character well.  It’s the Gere Dylan—and his scenes, which loop throughout the film—who is the most confusing, however.  Why the Wild West?  Why the 1800s?  Why Billy the Kid?  Symbolism, obviously, but not within the realm of understanding of someone who isn’t steeped in Dylan culture.  And therein lies the problem.  In addition to a complete and total lack of structure, this film is really meant for fans who know Dylan, inside and out (and yet, Haynes seems to be saying that he can’t be known). 

It’s the kind of film that critics love to praise, because of its “out-of-the-box” thinking.  Few people will be able to follow its storyline, however—much less get any of the movie’s obscure references.  As for me, how does it feel?  Like a royal mess.

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Feature commentary by director/co-writer Todd Haynes
  • On-Screen song lyrics
  • Song selections
  • Introduction to the film
  • Director Q&A
  • The Making of “I’m Not There”

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters drink in numerous scenes and smoke obsessively throughout film; some illegal drug use as well.
  • Language/Profanity:  Numerous profanities and obscenities, some strong.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Some brief nudity, some crude sexual references and a few sex scenes with partial nudity.
  • Violence:  Mostly fighting and arguing.  In one scene, a young boy jumps off a train and lands in a lake, but is uninjured.