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.
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.