Monday, 7 May 2012

Mr Nobody Understands Me

Mr Nobody is a film of truly grand ideas. Attempting to cram in as many questions about human existence as it can, as if involved in some sort of mad bet with the other films in the playground. Life, death, choice, love, fate, the nature of the universe, physics, you name it there’ll be a reference to it. Mr Nobody cannot be accused of being unambitious.

Now this is the point where it is customary to produce a quick plot synopsis; you know the drill, cover main characters, what happens, try not to give away too much (I refer to my blog about spoilers). This does not apply to the plot of Mr Nobody. I couldn't spoil the plot even if I tried because, and I'm not ashamed to admit this, I'm not sure if I can follow the plot entirely myself. I should show willing though, so I'll try and 'summarise' the plot as best I can.

Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) is at 118 years of age the last mortal man. In 2092, the inconvenience of ageing and dying has been done away with. He's a novelty, a futuristic side show freak, used to entertain the public via a reality TV show. Through interviews with first his Dr and then a journalist he recalls the story of his life.

A life that seems to contradict itself at every turn; Nemo stayed with his mum or his dad, he marries one of three different women, he’s in a coma, his wife is dead or he’s dead etc. It seems that every decision that Nemo make,s he is able to see the different routes that decision will take him down. All of which seems to boil to his one key decision, to either stay with his mum or dad. The choice seems to come down to the quality of laces employed by the shoe company, in one of the films many butterfly effect moments.

Is the contradictory life story a comment on the very nature of memories? Is it about the butterfly effect and the idea of fate? 

Whilst following each of the different strands, the film jumps and loops back on its self, never fully giving away where any particular strand is heading. The young Nemo, played with perfect teenage angst by Tony Regbo, has the opportunity to end up married to three different women depending on his decisons. It is the adult Leto we see living out these futures. Leto does seem to have a similar blank look on his face regardless of which future he's in; his haircut or presence of glasses seem to be better than him at conveying which life he’s in. Luckily for him, the d.p shoots each future in a slightly different style, differentiating each one with subtlety. To be fair to Leto he does perform the scenes under the latex as old Nemo admirably. Of the female leads it’s Juno Temple who impresses the most as a young Anna, the love of Nemo’s life.
Nemo if he'd made the children's character choice in his life
The real question comes down to whether the film is bigger than the sum of its different strands? The ambition of Jaco Van Dormael cannot be questioned, i fact it should be commended. In a time when films treat us with kid gloves, afraid to let us think in case our heads explode, he has produced a film which gives no quarter to anyone. Even at 140 minutes (this is the cut I saw there are other cuts available) the film is never less than entertaining and technically very impressive. Unfortunately it never quite comes together perfectly. In films that are difficult to follow there is often a point towards the end when the film starts to come together, the underlying theme comes through, but with this you are left scratching your head. It pains me to say that perhaps instead of making the film so impenetrable, he should have conceded a little to the viewer. In the directors mind I’m sure this all makes sense, if he could let us in a little more perhaps it would be more rewarding. I can't help but think a slightly better edit may have helped things seem just a tad clearer.

For what it’s worth I do think there is an interesting film in here about the nature of fate and choice. Who hasn’t struggled over a difficult choice in their life? Puzzled over which route to take, who to settle down with, career decisions etc. What if we could play out these decisions to the nth degree (in a much better way than Next see my blog about spoilers). Isn't that the best way of making an informed the decision, a sort of live action pros and cons list. Perhaps that’s what Nemo has done, played out every decision to the absolute end. Whether that’s death, happiness, a loveless marriage or whatever he knows and can decide. Isn’t that all we want from life, to make the best decisions for ourselves and our loved ones.

Overall I’d recommend this film purely because I commend its very existence. It may not always work, the whole space short story I could’ve done without, but watch it and then watch it again and come to your own conclusions. It's confusing but in a good way, not like the Box which is confusing in a crap way!  

There was an alternate version of this blog in which I take the completely opposite view point in, Nemo kind of way I weighed it up and decided against it

What did you think of the film?


  1. hahaha..... is definitely diff, which is exactly why i love it. def not a mainstream film and clearly, one of my fav movies.

  2. What about the gnostic themes of this movie?

  3. It's sad that this amazing film was so poorly marketed and ended up so commercially unsuccessful and, as a result, so few people are even aware of its existence.

    Movies can makes us think (try to make sense of the story) and movies can makes us feel (empathize with the characters' predicaments). It's a rare film that can manage to effectively achieve both.

    It's true that Mr Nobody is a challenge to make sense of, even compared to other films that employ nonlinear storytelling tactics.

    If you've seen it but are still struggling with putting the pieces together, consider this an attempt at an interpretation:

    [spoiler warning]

    The multiple branches of a life story that we see in most of the movie are the dream of a younger Nemo (though it's hard to tell what age: 9? 15? 34?) of how his future life might unfold. The 2092 future doesn't exist yet (as the 118-year-old Nemo himself tells the interviewer at some point near the ending) except in Nemo's dreams or in his imagination.

    Just like an unfinished chess game's possible multiple future developments co-exist simultaneously in the chess player's mind before he/she makes a move, so do young Nemo's possible future life stories co-exist (in his dream(s)?) simultaneously before a crucial decision is made.

    The multiple possible life stories keep on branching and branching, but in this film they are woven into three distinct threads. In one of them, Nemo ends up marrying a girl who loves someone else. In another thread, he ends up marrying a girl he doesn't love. And then there's a thread in which Nemo and the girl are completely in love with each other. But the trouble is: in this thread, circumstances conspire, time and again, to prevent them from living together happily.

    As Nemo dreams of his life's possible future paths and his life's ending, he is trying to understand which of the three women is his true love. When he gets to the final answer, "Anna", he exclaims: "This is the happiest day of my life!", and then -- in a way -- time starts rolling all the way back to the point(s) where the crucial decision(s) is/are made.