Monday, April 14, 2014

Mr Nobody (2009): When Amalgamation is a Joke

Mr. Nobody (2009)
dir: Jaco Van Dormael

Wading through the esoteric science fiction of the late 90s and 00s, one picks up a thread of emotional and personal narratives that connect the tissues. One of the primary narratives that has happened is that of choice and effect, and the possibility of multiple worlds existing at the same time. This is an outgrowth of one segment of string theory that was posited in the 60s and still hangs on today, if only for some cool ass shit.

Another narrative that runs through a lot of sci-fi is the idea of memory and whether or not your brain pattern is what makes you you. Are we just bags of meat that is powered by this grey matter in our heads? Are we something more? Could this be replicated?

A final narrative questions whether life is just a function of the brain, and whether or not this could be replicated in various fashions without the body. Could one keep the brain activated, and the person it is supposed to be attached to would still be living even though the body would be inanimate? Could the brain have different stimuli attached to it?

All of these come to a head in Mr. Nobody, a movie which takes its cues from a ton of random science fiction sources of the late 90s and 00s. The most easily notable ones are 1998's Sliding Doors, 1998's Run Lola Run, 2001's Waking Life, 2001's Amelie, and 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There are also influences from 1890's story An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge, which influenced both the final story in Hermann Hesse's 1931 novel The Glass Bead Game and 1997's The Devil's Advocate. Plus, there are influences from 2004's novel Cloud Atlas, which would become a movie in 2012. There's also scenes which feel like Alien meets 2001 meets Blade Runner. One section feels like a stylistic antecedent of 2004's Garden State. There's also Back to the Future II in there.

That's a HELL of a lot of different influences, and it would have to be a crazy movie to include all of them. And, it is.

The titular Mr. Nobody is celebrating his 118th birthday as the last living mortal in 2093. The secret of immortality has been discovered, and Mr. Nobody is now a hit news item, though nobody can identify him nor figure out where he came from...and neither can he. Through hypnosis and regression, he tells the story of his folks meeting, and his creation. But, that's about the only thing that comes out normal.

When he was 9, his parents divorced, with his mother moving from their quaint European small town to a big city to be with her new boyfriend. He is given the option of going with his mother or staying with his father. And, the movie begins breaking off into its different realities.

With his mother, he has a litany of options such as a love affair with his step sister that breaks off when their parents divorce, and he has to find her. With his father, there are three girls he could end up with, and each of those girls have different choices at different times with different consequences.

All of these options are given completely different feelings and emotions, giving the movie a feeling of chaos and jarring emotional juxtapositions. Not unlike the movie of Cloud Atlas, where 6 different stories of 6 different eras wrap around each other for three hours, Mr. Nobody allows its 4 different important time periods (9 years old, 15 years old, 34 years old, and 118 years old) to wrap around each other, and has Jared Leto pop in and out of the different time periods and different realities within the different time periods. If you can't keep up, that's the effect that Van Dormael was going for.

The finale of Mr. Nobody wraps up with a gotcha series of events that makes the whole movie seem like it was intended as a prank on the viewer. Mr. Nobody ends with the 118-year-old man laughing out loud, either in joy or in prankish mischief, but it almost seems targeted at the audience given the content of the epilogue.

The problem with reviewing this movie is that it might actually be good, if you haven't seen any of the films or read any of the other source material. Almost everything in the movie feels lifted from another movie, which sometimes felt like amalgamations themselves. The style of childhood totally feels like that refreshingly clean and comic feeling from Amelie. There are times it feels like a neo-realist film, or a Bertolucci film (like The Dreamers), or a Bret Easton Ellis novel (like Less Than Zero). Whether that's consciously or unconsciously, the whole movie feels like somebody just hit random on a multi-disc DVD carousel.

The second biggest problem is the movie's sheer vacuousness, which extends to Jared Leto. Because the movie is supposed to be about a no man and an everyman, Leto doesn't change much emotionally from scene to scene. Given his various life choices, one would suspect that his personality would develop more than his wardrobe.

But, it's a gorgeous piece of filmmaking whose various cribbed styles are executed beautifully, even if it is a bit ridiculous at times. Christophe Beaucarne's camerawork truly emphasizes the great detail that went into the set design and visual effects. If nothing else, the movie is a wide variety of eye candy. But, it's all candy I've seen before, and it's starting to feel like reheated leftovers.

Maybe in another 10 or 20 years, when all of the movie start to form into a single cohesive statement with the passage of time, Mr. Nobody will start to look less derivative and more as a singular outstanding piece of work (with the exception of some truly unfortunate old man make up and Leto's performance of an old man is right on par with Tom Hanks' performances in Cloud Atlas for laughability). But right now, with the audience this attracts who have seen a majority of the movies mentioned above, this movie comes off as a work of a really talented rip-off artist.

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