Tuesday, August 17, 2010
“What did I do to deserve this?” Exactly, what did Jared Leto do to deserve this, to be digitally mauled into a frighteningly realistic depiction of himself, eighty years older? I’m unsure of who or what is the culprit here, actual makeup or CG or both, but the desired effect is a success. In fact, it’s rare to see Jared Leto onscreen in his real-life image. His name appears now and then in film-credits for little obscure roles that leave you wondering where the hell he was while you were watching a movie for the last two hours. His very face seems to have that perpetual air of vapidity that ensures he doesn’t linger too long in your memory. Anonymity is his cape of professionalism. Disfigurement seems to be his masquerade party. In Requiem for a Dream, his arm gets infected and gets chopped off surgically (and very graphically too). In Fight Club, his face gets punched-in so bad, he looks like Jeff Goldblum throughout the rest of the film. In Panic Room, he first gets his face sprayed by gasoline flames, and then gets shot at point blank range. In American Psycho, we’re spared the torture of the off-screen sludge that results when Leto gets his skull cloven by a psychopathic Patrick Bateman, with a scary-looking axe. Then there’s also Chapter 27, where we find the lanky 37-year old transmogrified into a fat, tubby adamant Mr.Chapman who murdered John Lennon. So it’s small surprise, and only seems apt (not ironic) that we’re asked this question when the Van Dormael-directed Mr.Nobody opens with a shot of our man’s dead body rolled into a morgue vault, with a remorseful question, ironic by choice: “What did I do to deserve this?”
However, the context of the question becomes apparent as Nobody here (apparently it’s a normal name, Nemo Nobody) proceeds to ask this question in one life and answer it in a second life, yet being able to decipher it in a third life, while predicting that he would ask, in a fourth. He asks himself this question, a thousand times during the length of this movie, and answers them all in a thousand ways for each one of those thousand-questions he spawns. We are made to believe that our hero is a hundred and seventeen year old man dying in a year that’s set in the future, on another planet, being the oldest person on earth at a time when humans have perfected quasi-immortality, while he reminisces on his past through both a hypnotist and a reporter. He speaks of choices that he could have made while he was still young, choices he did not take when they had presented themselves to him. He constructs alternate possibilities, alternate existences that could have been his life, had he taken those choices. Why and what makes him think back like this is anybody’s guess. Is his life filled with too much regret? Is it because he doesn’t remember getting old like this, and he is actually trying to piece together his life? We don’t even know for sure if the old man is simply drawing you into a maze of confusion. Van Dormael considers the proper way to figure this out would be a mind-bending sort of chronology, with an unpredictable kaleidoscope for a time-machine.
Mister Nobody is a deliberate exercise in seeing reality from multiple perspectives in a non-linear way all at the same time. –And knowing that it is ALL real at the same time.
So in this fashion, we find ourselves at the beginning of all things; the origin of the inception of the beginning of life: a heavenly place where Nemo is yet to be born, waiting for an angel to send him off to a couple, like maybe even delivered by pelican post, you know… Citing a butterfly effect, quite literally, the unlikely couple chance to meet amidst a rainy day (and what if they hadn’t?). Nemo comes into the world. He has premonitory dreams that precede the actual happening of instances, citing a rather weird reason that the angels failed to seal his lips before he was born. Most often he dreams people dying. Fast forward a couple of years. Nemo is nine, and discovers that his mom is seeing someone else. Eventually she and the father decide to split. And there’s a typical, yet not clichéd railway station scene where a toddler is standing between teary-eyed mummy and daddy, staring up at them like they’re beanstalks that have just sprouted for no reason or cause, while they ask him to simply make a choice, disregarding the gravity of the consequences. What does he do?
If he stays with his father, he grows into an unsociable geek as an adolescent. Mars, other planets and celestial objects shall seem to hold a fascination for him. He will learn to speak in disjointed thought processes. He will be the local weirdo. Somehow, he would end up with Elise (Clare Stone / Sarah Polley) and live through a painful marriage to a wife afflicted with chronic depression, while fathering three children. Out of love for her, he would travel to Mars to scatter her ashes in a delightfully futuristic scene aboard a space wheel, where the passengers are put into hibernation until they reach their destination. Maybe the space wheel blows up in space, maybe not. If it doesn’t, he would meet Anna (see next para) in Mars…and so on.
Had he leapt on the train to follow his mother, on the other hand, he would have fallen deeply in love with Anna (Juno Temple / Diane Kruger) who would later spring a pleasant surprise on him when she moves into his house as his step-sister. In an intensely romantic setup, à la Julio Medem’s Lovers of the Arctic Circle, their underage, incestual love would end with them tragically losing each other for years, until they find each other again as young adults.
A third, apparently negative possibility has Nemo choose to become rich instead of happy, and he pairs with an Asian woman in a loveless marriage that ends in senseless tragedy with him getting involved with some bad guys and getting shot while he is still in his bathtub.
Choices are cruel. That doesn’t deem them painful luggage for life. Thinking about all the things you ‘could have done’ or ‘might have become’ while you’re about to die might seem a plausible, yet far-fetched rosary of the imagination, to yield to all your deepest fantasies. However, you can’t possibly come up with a coulda-shoulda-woulda list of probabilities of such detail and depth without having lived through a part of it yourself. And that’s where we hang on, every beautiful frame serving as tenterhooks for us to clamber higher, with the knowledge that you don’t know if the old man is lying to us, or if he’s actually taken a specific path along those choices and has lived through it. Plausible, yes and no.
And just when you think that the whole rendering of this string theory-styled flowchart of life, by a morose looking centenarian could be too far-fetched for visceral comfort, there comes the harbinger of a plot twist. You suddenly find yourself within a “Dream is Collapsing” scene right out of Inception. The future isn’t real, his adulthood isn’t real. None of the possibilities are real. His kids, his string theories, his adolescent experiences, first love, his car accident, wives, families, households, space travel, Mars, Anna, Jeanie, Elise everything and everyone isn’t real. He’s still the nine year old who is running along the train to stop his mother from leaving daddy. And ALL what we saw happened as “imagination” inside that little brain. Why would you spoil a story in such a fashion? Just because you needed an explanation as to why the reporter interviewing Nemo in the year 2092 is using a recorder straight out of 1975? Or is it because the angels failed to place the cleft-seal on his lips, thus allowing him the knowledge of “everything”?
Save this last jab, I must say Mr. Nobody ends up being another one of those movies that appear meticulously and lovingly made, yet flawed in its idea. This is a story in which exists primarily in order for the writer/director to explore the science of reality, and things like strong characters and realistic emotions are usually given short shrift. If you are hoping that Van Dormael’s complex script will provide answers then you will be disappointed. He is only interested in planting the questions in your mind and providing you with the tools to formulate your own answers. The script incorporates references to almost every school of thought known to man. This includes such things as string theory, the butterfly effect, the Big Crunch, entropy, etc. While Nemo wonders why time only goes in one direction, and ponders the possibility of smoke returning into a cigarette, the filmmakers have no trouble turning the hands of time backwards and forwards. But this is never done for cheap thrills; everything comes back to the idea that human life is precious in all its complications, and every choice we make has its consequences. Needless to say Mr. Nobody is a film that begs for repeat viewing in order to grasp all the various philosophical and scientific thoughts that are in play.
And for this, Mr. Dormael has certainly hired the right guys to make tidy work of the editing and special effects. The wide-angle shots bring such mayhem of colours into perspective, that even though it might look artificial, yet not artificial enough to appear surreal, it’s nevertheless, gorgeous and endlessly astonishing. Mr. Nobody is the ideal kind of film to own on Blu-ray. Exceptionally imaginative, acutely funny and startling, this production reeks of intelligence and craftsmanship, breaks down linear storytelling into bits, only to shuffle the whole thing in a brilliantly orchestrated masterpiece. Everything feels unique from the way the film is edited down to the way the story unfolds. For all its flaws, Mr. Nobody is the best looking movie I’ve seen in a VERY long time. It is indeed something special and should be treated as such.
By Fazil (at PassionForCinema.com )
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