You’ve seen biopics of complex figures, but director Todd Haynes isn’t interested in presenting his portrait of musician and cultural icon Bob Dylan like anything else ever made. His “I’m Not There” is a bold experiment, manifesting the fragmentation of Dylan’s persona by literally splitting him into six characters. This iconoclasm pays off in a rewarding and challenging experience, leading me to name the movie my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”
It’s not necessary to know Bob Dylan or his music really well to admire “I’m Not There.” Rather, all it takes is a willingness to see the connection between the six pseudo-Dylans … or perhaps their incongruity. The Dylans take many different shapes, including a young African-American (Marcus Carl Franklin), an older man (Richard Gere), a born-again folk singer (Christian Bale), and an actor attempting to get inside of him (Heath Ledger). We float through each of their lives and struggles in bits and spurts. Just when we think we get a grip on Dylan, he slips away.
Oddly enough, the one who looks the most like the Bob Dylan we know … is played by a woman. Cate Blanchett is Jude, a raspy-voiced chain smoking folk musician. Not unlike her work in “Blue Jasmine,” Blanchett disappears inside her character and makes us forget that aura of regality she so often conveys.
She captures all the frustration of misunderstood artistry along with all the pains of drug addiction. Blanchett brilliantly fulfills the most frequently recognized Dylan iconography yet also breathes something deeply human into her character, something no amount of cameras or reporters could ever really capture. She’s at once vulnerable and inaccessible.
Much like Jude, “I’m Not There” floats between all these contradictory lives of Dylan, back and forth with well-orchestrated indirection. It never settles, never aims for some sort of absolute truth. It’s like a fictionalization of the concepts brought up in a documentary like Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell.” We are many different things to many different people, and there is no fixed point from which to observe reality or memory. Perhaps we just exist as the sum total of the masks we wear.