TIFF 09: MR NOBODY Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
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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