Strangely shelved after a very well received debut at Venice in 2009, at which it received the Golden Osella, Mr. Nobody is finally getting some semblance of an official release Stateside.
From writer-director Jaco Van Dormael, this winding, narratively fractured film strides a difficult line which divides the maudlin and the touching. While at times it descends into misguided grandiosity, despite there being more than enough heft to be found in the material, Mr. Nobody will at the very least leave you exhausted – if not ponderous – and at the most, actively examining the mistakes of your past and promise of your future.
It is difficult to comprehensively examine Mr. Nobody without ruining moments and plot threads, which are sometimes shocking, if not vital to the film’s overall effectiveness. In the end, it’s a film that’s memorable based on the emotion it evokes, not so much on individual scenes, so it’s not really that burdensome a hurdle. This is a movie not of twists, but one about outcomes that are as unforeseeable and unavoidable as they are in real life. Well, they would be if our protagonist Nemo (Jared Leto) wasn’t able to manipulate space and time and live multiple lives based on key turning points during what would become a lengthy existence.
The main launching point comes when his parents fall out from one another and decide to part, leaving young Nemo with the choice of a life with his mother or his father. While only one choice is theoretically possible, this gifted boy lives both options, which then split into other timelines with varying destinations – some wonderful, some tragic, some which are one in the same. These interweaving narratives are interspersed with scenes of Nemo as a 117 year old, somewhat detached from reality, living in a future where humans have become pseudo-immortal, with him being the last individual who will ever die of old age. Also amidst the visual flourishes (which as I mentioned often do little to enhance) is a journey on a voyage to Mars, stemming from a story Nemo is writing which mirrors many of the themes in his many lives.
The aforementioned visual overkill that seems unwilling to relinquish its grasp stems either from Van Dormael’s uneasiness that the obtuse story will baffle, thus throwing in obvious cues to aid us along, or from his own ego, thinking the additions artsy. While I personally found them distracting, there is so much intelligence on display that it’s impossible to berate the man over what in the scheme of things, are inconsequential.
The ways in which Mr Nobody weaves fate and chance are quite interesting and ultimately immensely relevant in regards to our everyday lives. When things turn one way or the other, they have echoes of divine intervention, but that process of thought – that defence mechanism against the struggles of everyday life – is so common that it speaks more to our weakness (if you call it that) as a species than a godly presence.
Consequently, the film painfully demonstrates how easily a single event (the butterfly effect plays a large role here) can alter, destroy or heighten someone’s existence. We all have something in our past over which we anguish, but when thinking back it often stems from something as simple as using the wrong words, or sleeping through your alarm. It’s nothing omnipotent, but still a scar of your past you can’t help but to mull over as if you were outside your body at the time. All of these motifs are on display here in both starkness and greys.
The performances from what is truly a superb cast follow in suit of their resumes, with Leto being given the task of portraying a man who is of the same mind and body but a different life – one which has shaped his outlook and demeanour. Similarly, the younger actors who play Nemo at an earlier age convey the same anguish, joy and hope, though of course at different junctures depending on the timeline in which we’re examining. As Nemo’s loves, Diane Kruger, Amy Smart and Linh Dan Pham are great, both present to personify facets of Nemo’s personality and past-present experiences while still existing as interesting, fully realized individuals themselves.
If for anything else, Mr. Nobody is the rare film that concludes with scenes which enhance all those that came before, a rare feat in an age of movies with endings that so often destroy the whole effort. It’s not a film that will leave you easily and even if it hits home to a lesser extent than it may for others, individual scenes and the overarching messages are too universal not to have meaning. I could continue to wax philosophic about every single idea Mr. Nobody approaches, but it’s best you experience them for yourself and glean your own conclusions from the material.
While visual excess and occasional thematic bombast softens Mr. Nobody at times, the film nevertheless has poignant, often profound things to say about fate, mortality, consequence and love.