TIFF 09: MR NOBODY Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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TIFF 09: MR NOBODY Review
Nemo Nobody is dying.  Nemo Nobody is in love.  Nemo Nobody is old and infirm.  Nemo Nobody is a wide-eyed child.  Nemo Nobody is rich and successful.  Nemo Nobody is a wild-haired bum sleeping on a park bench.  Are any of these things true?  Are any false?  If we refuse to choose between them can they not all be true simultaneously?  This is the central question of Jaco van Dormael's gorgeous, experimental, incredibly high-concept science fiction feature Mr Nobody.

Jared Leto is Mr Nobody, the oldest man in the world - or at least the oldest living mortal, humanity having adopted technology that allows for continuous regeneration.  His time is coming, he will soon be dead, and what everybody wants to know is what life was like for this relic.  But the answers he gives are contradictory and confused.  Was he raised by his mother or his father?  Did he marry Elise, Anna or Jean?  Was he a success?  A failure?  Is he truly present in the room or did he die young?  To hear him speak all are true simultaneously, or could it be simply the ravings of a senile old man?

Though never mentioned specifically, van Dormael draws heavily on the uncertainty principal, Schrodinger's theories of quantum paradox and the parallel universe theory - the theory that the universe splits whenever you make a decision, allowing countless versions of yourself to be alive simultaneously, in parallel, living out every possible version of your life - in crafting his beautifully executed tale that ultimately boils down to the simple story of a boy who wants to be loved.

When his parents separated in his childhood, Nemo was faced with a simple but horrible decision, a decision no child should have to make:  Which parent did he want to live with?  It is a decision he simply can not make, a decision he refuses to make and in that moment of refusal Nemo simply comes unstuck from regular, linear time,, instead experiencing all possible options simultaneously, slipping between universes as if through a dream.  Often literally through dreams.  What will life be like with this parent?  What with that?  What if I love this girl?  What if that?  That went horribly wrong, can I rewind and take a different path?  Why, yes, yes I can ...

Sumptuously crafted and loaded with stellar performances - Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger and Rhys Ifans are the more recognizable members of the support cast, but all are excellent whether recognizable or not - Mr Nobody is a film that simply refuses to function according to the rules of conventional narrative.  It's a slippery beast, one that slides constantly between alternate options, alternate threads, and it is very much to Van Dormael's credit that would could have been an incredibly confusing structure remains quite simple to follow.  That said, however, the shape of the thing will be quite daunting for many audiences - particularly when considering it's whopping one hundred and forty minute run time, factors that guarantee that while Mr Nobody will find a loyal and appreciative audience it will likely be a small one. 

Gorgeous to look at and deeply heartfelt, Van Dormael's return to directing after a thirteen year absence is one of the most strikingly original entries in the scifi canon in quite some time.  A truly unique experience, there is nothing else out there quite like it.  A hypnotic experience meant to be experienced more than puzzled over it somehow manages to use its concepts and theories without ever becoming beholden to them and to transcend the ideas with emotion.  Though it arguably runs significantly longer than it needs to, Mr Nobody comes with a high recommendation for fans of serious scifi.
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More about Mr Nobody

Ben UmsteadSeptember 13, 2009 7:10 PM

Well crafted, Todd. It's reading stuff like this that makes me wish I could be at TIFF and experience a film like this - a film seemingly tailored made for me - first hand.

Since it's in English with an American lead how do you think it'll fair on finding distribution in North America?

TorontoScreenShotsSeptember 13, 2009 11:26 PM

Thanks for the review, Todd. This is my most anticipated TIFF screening (seeing it on Friday!)

Todd BrownSeptember 14, 2009 2:25 AM

Honestly, I don't think it's got much of a shot at distribution, certainly not theatrical. It's more abstract by far than The Fountain and I just don't see there being enough of an audience for it.

disraeliSeptember 14, 2009 3:30 AM

I truly loved this film, caught it in Venice the last day of the festival.

IzikavazoSeptember 15, 2009 6:37 PM

I'm very prepared to love this movie. Hopefully it comes to the VIFF.

fhoomSeptember 17, 2009 12:12 AM

yeah, wow, hope to get hold of it somehow.

TeeZeeSeptember 21, 2009 3:25 PM

Saw this at TIFF. I enjoyed it, but it would frustrate the crap out of many moviegoers. People that need to know what is going on every minute will hate this. The rest of us can enjoy the ride and put our trust in those who made it.

Kurt HalfyardOctober 5, 2009 6:21 PM

This movie kicked my ass in all the right ways. I hope it gets a theatrical release, but is surely destined to go down with the popular audience like THE FOUNTAIN or (the theatrical release of ) DONNIE DARKO.