Todd Haynes' Dylan biopic I'm Not There is much like the man himself.
The movie is weird.
It's also brilliant.
It's not a movie that will appeal to the masses. It does not tell Bob Dylan's life story so much as it makes it a guessing game. It does not follow a chronology. Some of the story is dead-on accurate. Some of it is suspect. Some of it steals from the myths a young Dylan created about himself, and they were "tall tales." Six different actors portray Dylan at different stages of his life, none of them are referred to as Bob Dylan, and one is a black child.
Then again, Dylan himself sang, "My life is a Series of Dreams."
Indeed, there is a dream-like quality to this movie. Like the man's songs, there is a swirling imagery to the cinematic art displayed in I'm Not There. Haynes uses a mixture of the four previous movie portraits painted of Dylan's life. He steals most heavily from the legendary 1965 D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don't Look Back. He also pays homage to the Martin Scorcese model of Dylanology, No Direction Home. Only the most diligent Dylan diehards will find hints of the Dylan flops Renaldo and Clara and Masked and Anonymous in this movie.
The movie is an examination of Dylan's life primarily through the eyes of a young boy named Marcus played by Carl Franklin. True to the Dylan story, Marcus thumbed his way to the big time carrying a guitar case, a never-ending stream of tall tales and an obsession with Woody Guthrie. It recounts Dylan's pilgrimage to Brooklyn State Hospital to visit the dying folk troubadour.
At the opposite extreme, Richard Gere portrays a wizened old Bob Dylan who examines his life with equal doses of humor and regret.
But what drives this movie, and gives it a quality of masterpiece, is the 1965-66 portrayal of Dylan by Cate Blanchett, who recently picked up a Golden Globe award for the role. An Academy Award is sure to follow. She is uncanny as Dylan.
Blanchett is perfect as the chameleon rock hipster Dylan who turned his back on the folk movement by plugging in at Newport in 1965. The movie depicts that assault on the senses by segueing between Dylan blasting the Newport audience with a machine gun and electric guitar while abandoning his "finger-pointing songs" with the proclamation that "I'm Not Gonna Work on Maggie's Farm No More!"
The depiction is true to form, complete with an irate Pete Seeger grabbing an ax and attempting to cut the power to Dylan's now-amplified art.
What follows is Dylan's worldwide tours from '65-66 when "fans" attempted to boo the singer off the stage night after night. It highlights the riotous "Judas" moment in England in 1966, Dylan's sparring sessions with the press, his abuse of amphetamine and his frustration with a world that cared far too much about what he thought, said or did.
The movie offers glimpses of the traveling road show insanity that was Rolling Thunder Review, his exile from the business between 1966 and 1974, the breakup of his marriage, his conversion to Born Again Christianity and the artistic salvation he has always found is his maniacal obsession with music.
"Music holds the only true value," Blanchett quotes Dylan. "There is a purity to it. It's holy."
The movie does fall short in the portrayal of his 12-year marriage and his years in exile. His marriage to Sara - who was the inspiration for hundreds of Dylan songs - is portrayed as being relationally plagued. That contradicts Dylan's version of the breakup in his self-penned Chronicles I. In his memoirs, Dylan wrote the marriage was undone largely because of a fan base that would allow neither him nor his family any peace.
By showing the motorcycle accident at the end of the movie, the viewer gets the false impression that Dylan's exile from the business was the result of burnout and disgust with the expectations of his audience. Again, the true account is that Dylan spent considerable time recovering from a broken neck and the ensuing years dedicating himself to being a husband and father to his five children.
Those shortcomings aside, the movie is true-to-form in its depiction of Dylan's many lives. It's a movie unlike anything you've ever seen before. It is a surreal portrait of the Dylan landscape with Cate Blanchett as its Mount Everest.
The movie will continue its run at the Sedona Dream Theater through Jan. 24.