Sweet Jared Leto did I enjoy Mr. Nobody.
Spoilers below, hark, discussion ensues.
I was deeply prepared to hate Mr. Nobody. It had a lot of the same warning signs of Frequencies: meandering, couched in mystery, that ineffable hipsterness of the entire affair. But instead it turned out to be one of the best and most thought-provoking movies I’ve seen for quite some time.
It definitely isn’t for everyone, hell, if I’d been in the wrong mood, I probably would have hated it. And I’m sure the comments will have a solid contingent of you who absolutely loathed it. And that’s fine. This was a movie that either completely worked or didn’t work at all, and had no median state. A lot of that derives directly from its design: a work of complex and inexplicable moving parts that challenges you to fit them together can rapidly descend into boring and antagonistic quaintness if not just perfectly balanced. It’s an unstable equilibrium of a film by its construction.
It worked for me though, and I hope it did for some of you too.
What really got me thinking was the simple fact that the plot descriptions of it online are absolutely and completely wrong, and actively lead you away from the best assumption to have at the start of the film. See, it’s not an old man looking back at all the different possible routes of his life, but a young man looking forward. The movie flat out tells you that at the start, with its explanation that when you are born, sometimes the angel that is supposed to take your memories of all the past and future away misses you, and prophets slip through.
Nemo Nobody is essentially Dune’s Paul Atriedes once he has his visions of the future. Seeing all of them simultaneously, worming down each path and examining it before trying to find better and different paths. The old Nemo looking back from the singularity isn’t real in a sense, he’s a symbol of what is after the point when Nemo can see.
Notice that in all of Nemo’s visions, all the paths of different loves and lives, he can never see past the point when he is the age his parents are when they separate. It’s the singularity, you see, or the clouds in the spice visions. And the boy cannot see past his becoming the age of his parents because when we are children, they are our model for everything we ever could be. Past that point, even being able to see the future, it all becomes incoherent and only his impossible future self who never made any choice can look back at him both weeping and laughing.
The entire film takes place in a split moment, in that quantum of time when he must choose whether to go with his mother or his father. And in lesser hands, that would make for a terrible twee movie that would make me want to hang myself. But this one? It made for a lovely meander.
I could meander myself here. Talk about the sublimity of the cast: Leto pulls a minor Maslany, running through several different versions of himself that are all distinct. Toby Regbo pulls the same trick as several different versions of Nemo as a teenager. And Juno Temple and Diane Kruger are perfect as younger and older versions of each other. The visuals are spectacular as well, color and light seeming to flow with the movie’s mood rather than just being the stark background of framed reality. I could meander, but I’d rather turn it over to you in the comments.
Next week, we’ll be watching The Brass Teapot, which I completely admit that I watched after seeing it was highly rated and featured Juno Temple, which was all I needed to hear after Mr. Nobody. Ignore the completely wrong Rotten Tomatoes scores for it. It’s an excellent movie, and fits in that precise genre that has a name but I just prefer to call “a story like Neil Gaiman would write” because everyone knows exactly what that means.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.