“Mr. Nobody”: A True Cinema Gem

Written by Guest December 08, 2011

Devin Barnes

The most astonishing thing about Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael’s “Mr. Nobody” – and that’s an impressive achievement, as this movie spans time zones, states of mind and planes of quantum consciousness, even taking an unexpected detour to the red planet – is its non-existence in the public’s lexicon: even art-house connoisseurs seem only dimly aware of Nobody‘s existence; a true tragedy, as Mr. Nobody is an astonishing, hypnotic achievement that demands further exposure. It marries a self-aware, quirky sensibility to a canvas that makes The Tree of Life look like Dora the Explorer.

Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) lives numerous lives throughout the film – many of which, as a confused reporter indicates, blatantly contradict and disagree with one another, as if he is deliberately lying in his aged retelling of his own story – we learn that, in the distant future, Nemo is the “last mortal man” and is relaying his own youthful escapades to an intrigued journalist. These stories include an impetuous teen romance (several, actually), on-again-off-again marriages and at least two instances of Nemo’s untimely demise; this film makes no claims of linear plotting.

Oh, and there’s “pigeon superstition,” quantum physics interludes, “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes (pum pum pum pum pum pum pum pum…) and more surrealist moments than Charlie Kaufman could shake a stick at; there’s also the choice a young boy must make between his mother and father – an emotional arc that, somewhat unexpectedly, drives the entire film; it is an astonishing piece of science-fiction that hinges upon a boy’s inability to choose between his divorced parents.

It is the inciting incident – encapsulated by the haunting image of a departing train – that takes us into a journey of conflicting stories and surrealist dreamscapes; ending in nothing less than the Big Crunch – the end of time – and the workings of an unhinged imagination. The film even features a television conversation between Nemo’s past and future selves (following, naturally, a newspaper telling Nemo to “turn to page 3”). Few films (nothing since Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, actually) have left me hypnotized while the endcredits began to roll. Mr. Nobody gets everything right. It’s one of the all-time greats.

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