Mr. Nobody

Remember my long rant about mindless entertainment? Here is a movie that is anything but that. It is the exact opposite. It is smart, poignant, reflective and heady. It is the kind of movie that Hollywood execs would loathe to touch with a five foot pole. It is a movie that resonated with me for a myriad of reasons.

Also, it’s probably the kind of movie you should go into cold, without knowing anything about it. Watching the trailer doesn’t really spoil much, but it does give you a vague idea of what the movie is about. So will this review. So if you want to gamble on a movie, and watch it because I said it is good then go queue it up in Netflics, Torrent it up or whatever. Then come back for discussion. Or if you want to get an idea what you are getting into, keep reading. I will try not to spoil anything.

Good movie, go watch it now!

The movie starts in the year 2092 introducing us to Mr. Nobody – the last mortal man on earth. The frail old man is 118 years old, and for some reason never had telomerization treatments that granted virtual immortality to everyone else on Earth. He was probably too old to benefit from them when they were first introduced, and he simply outlived everyone else from his generation. As we meet him, he is staying at a hospital in a very frail state and under constant supervision of attentive staff. Being last man to die of old age, ever makes him quite interesting – and so he is in all the headlines, and his death is promised to be televised for the masses. Everyone wants to know the story of Nemo Nobody. The only problem is that the ancient man’s memory is not what it used to be. His doctors help him put together his jumbled memories using hypnotherapy and other means. But it is not working very well.

Nobody’s story just doesn’t add up. We see it revealed in fragmented and jumbled flashbacks, which are often contradictory. In some flashbacks he dies. In others he is paralyzed after a nasty motor bike accident. We see several permutations of three love stories, simultaneously unfolding seemingly at the same time. It all traces back to an impossible choice he had to make at age 9, when a divorce forced him to pick which parent he wanted to stay with. From that point on his life branches out and splinters into myriad of possible realities. Every choice splits another branch, and adds another life to the pile. It’s as if he was in a quantum superposition – refusing to make a choice causes him to experience all the possibilities at the same time.

The movie stars Jared Leto who plays about a dozen versions of Nemo Nobody, including the 118 year old ancient geezer struggling with his confused memories. He does quite a decent job differentiating between them – they are all subtly different and yet very much the same. Although the younger cast Toby Regbo, Juno Temple and Clare Stone – playing teenage versions of Nemo and his love interests – pretty much steal the show. Then again I might be biased because I have sort of been enamored by lovely Juno Temple ever since Jack Black’s Year One. Watch that girl, because I think she is going places. We should see her debut as a leading lady in the Dirty Girl later this year. She will be playing Holly Robinson in the new Batman which almost makes it up for that horrible Cat Woman costume that leaked out to the interwebs recently. But I am getting completely sidetracked here.

Ultimately Mr. Nobody is a movie about choices. How do we make them and how they affect and shape our lives. It resonated with me because I have always agonize over difficult life choices. Like the protagonist I often freeze up unable to make my next move, petrified that the choice I make will be a wrong one. Nemo Nobody does not make any choices – he experiences all possible lives an realities only to find out none of them is better or worse than the other. All these lives involve pain, heartbreak and suffering interleaved with brief moments of happiness. None of his choices are wrong. They are all equally valid, even though they lead him in different directions. I think that the writer/director Jaco Van Dormael’s is basically trying to convey that every life is worth living.

Of course the movie could also be interpreted as a commentary on the art of storytelling. Mr. Nobody, an unreliable narrator spins a dozen of different contradictory tales confusing his listeners, and the viewers alike. But at the end of the day, all his stories are moving and interesting. Does it matter which one is the right one? Does it make any difference which has really happened? Do all stories have to be internally consistent to be valid? After all we connect with Nemo in all his different aspects. We experience his heartbreaks, his loss and his pain throughout all the different branches of his disjointed life. It does not really matter if the story is real, or if it is just a figment of imagination of an old man on his death bed. We enjoyed it all the same.

I guess the beauty of this movie is that it both of these interpretations work. It engages you at many levels, and gives you a lot to think about. Van Dormael does not cuddle the viewers, he tells a strange, convoluted and jumbled story trusting you to make your own conclusions. If you expect the movie to wrap everything up and explain it to you in the third act, you will probably be disappointed. Which is not to say that the ending is disappointing. It makes sense, internally but it will eave you questioning what was real, what really happened and how it all fits together. And that’s sort of the point.

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5 Responses to Mr. Nobody

  1. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Torrenting it right now :)
    Though I’m a little put off by it not looking sci-fi enough :)

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  2. Alex Reinisch Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    @Liudvikas //SPOILER-maybe?: Just wait for the Mars-related scenes. The movie as a whole didn’t strike me as sci-fi, but those scenes were fun
    @Lucas Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll try to keep it short:
    *Teenage love scenes felt scary-accurate, thus realistic and moving.
    *Shots of: space elevator, elevated from bench Nemo, follow a raindrop, etc. Surprisingly interesting things to see.
    *Constantly made me think. I liked that.
    *I was confused why Nemo was confusing names. I know just enough about quantum entanglement to think that without any separate collapsing of worldviews, there should be no cross-talk. Any ideas?
    *I didn’t see the need for the “Big Crunch” and “time? bahaha” shenanigans. Entanglement seemed sufficient, but maybe that means I didn’t fully understand the movie.
    As you can tell, the film still has me thinking. Thanks again for pointing it out!

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    Well, it is one of these movies that has SF elements, but it is not defined by them. Most people probably would not classify it as SF. It is more in that strange/quirky category. I guess that makes it accessible to people who usually get turned off by space opera type stuff.

    Alex Reinisch wrote:

    Teenage love scenes felt scary-accurate, thus realistic and moving.

    I sort of never experienced teenage love like this – or rather my love was always unrequited when I was that age. Unfortunate I guess, but what can you do. Still, these scenes were captivating and vivid, and the bigger than life emotions of the characters did ring true for me.

    @ Alex Reinisch wrote:

    I was confused why Nemo was confusing names. I know just enough about quantum entanglement to think that without any separate collapsing of worldviews, there should be no cross-talk. Any ideas?

    Have you read Neal Stephensons’ Anathem? I don’t want to spoil it too much, but one of the core philosophical discussions in the novel explains how the very nature of the human consciousness would allow for such crosstalk to exist – or rather how such crosstalk is essential to its actual function.

    Alex Reinisch wrote:

    I didn’t see the need for the “Big Crunch” and “time? bahaha” shenanigans.

    Yeah, that was strange. I do not fully grasp the significance of that whole sequence either. I’m suspecting it is one of these things that was not supposed to be taken literally.

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  4. Ricardo DENMARK Google Chrome Windows says:


    My conclusion was that actually all his possibilities didn’t actually happen – but would have been equally valid if he had chosen them. It was all in his mind. At the very end, however, when Anna appears by the bench where a version of him is sleeping, he realizes that is the right choice. That was the right path for him, one that supersedes all others. So he is happy and his old version can finally die. And time starts to go back to his 9-year old version, when he can finally make the decisions that will lead to his desired outcome.

    @Alex Reinisch, he seemed to have confused the events as well. For example, in some of his choices, other people were involved in the accidents that actually killed him in some his other choices. I didn’t get the meaning of that, though.

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  5. Chris Wellons UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Luke, thanks for another great movie recommendation. I finally watched it this afternoon. Great production quality consistently throughout the film. Great acting by everyone. I really enjoyed it. The first hook that really piqued my interested was at the beginning, when we see the headline about being the last mortal. That idea sounded very interesting.

    I’m going to agree with Alex that the teenage love scenes were very realistic, or at least was very close what I can remember of my own teen years. I think they really nailed it.

    Spoilers follow.

    My interpretation was that the boy being in this decision superposition (perfect word for it, btw) allowed him to see all the possible futures of the universe, a universe that would only continue for another century (when the big crunch kicks in and time reverses). Because he could see every possibility, he would know exactly what decisions to make in order to survive just to the end of the universe (“end” being where time stops advancing). However, he still felt that every possible outcome of differing decisions was just as meaningful as the next.

    I figured out the conclusion about 1/3 of the way into the movie. :-) However, I thought the decision stemmed from his passing of the three girls, since it was the earliest “decision” depicted — outside of the dessert shop, that is. If I studied your screencap more carefully before watching I probably could have nailed it down to the train scene.

    My only complaint is a technical one. The sound balance was like that of a DVD produced in the late 90’s: the voices were very low and hard to hear a lot of the movie. It was probably done that way in order to better take advantage of dynamic range, so those loud noises would punch so hard (the explosion, the gunshot, etc.).

    Have you ever seen the movie Next (the Nicolas Cage one)? It explores a related idea. The main character can see several minutes into future (and eventually even further), and so he can make his choices much more effectively. It didn’t get good reviews, and it’s nowhere near as good as Mr. Nobody, but I’d say it’s worth a watch just for its conclusion.

    Mr. Nobody felt a little like a mix of Next (explore alternate choices) and, your previous recommendation, The Fountain (same character living multiple stories). However, this isn’t the first time I saw a movie where the main character’s name was Nobody: My Name is Nobody (my favorite Western).

    Another similar movie to look into is Run Lola Run.

    Finally, I don’t care what anyone says, personally I classify this as a science fiction film.

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