I'm Not There

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 August, 2008, 12:00am

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere

Director: Todd Haynes

Category: IIB

In I'm Not There, the Bob Dylan-inspired chain-smoking poet, Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), talks about his 'simple rules of going into hiding'.

'Never create anything,' he says. 'It will be misinterpreted, it will chain you and follow you, for the rest of your life.'

That's probably how director Todd Haynes imagines Dylan would react to the layers of meaning attributed to his work.

Instead of a straightforward biopic, Haynes breaks the American singer-songwriter's life into six parts and develops each one into a fictional persona.

Apart from Whishaw's Arthur - whose role is mostly delivered from behind a table - there's also Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), a singing 11-year-old drifter with nothing to his name but a guitar marked with the phrase 'This machine kills fascists'.

And there's Jack Rollins (Christian Bale), a protest-song troubadour from the early 1960s who reinvents himself a decade later as an evangelist. There's also Robbie (Heath Ledger), a 1970s actor famous for playing Jack in a biopic, and who - like Dylan during the same period - is entrenched in a dysfunctional marriage.

Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid, a nod to Dylan's role (both as an actor and songwriter) in Sam Peckinpah's western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), and seen revisiting episodes of his former selves. He eventually ends up in a face-off with a very old Pat Garrett (Bruce Greenwood).

Finally, in black-and-white segments, reminiscent of Dylan's documentary Don't Look Back, Haynes unleashes Jude (Cate Blanchett, above), an explicit impersonation of 1960s Dylan - seen infuriating fans with her electric-guitar sets and bickering with a lover in the form of the Edie Sedgwick-clone Coco (Michelle Williams).

With such a wide array of material - and having cast the chronology of events to the wind - I'm Not There runs the risk of becoming caught up in its own importance. However, in the hands of Haynes, the film is at once visually inventive and emotionally engaging with a wealth of references to Dylan's life that question the mythology generated during his career.

Haynes has certainly not heeded Arthur/Dylan's views about the albatross born of artistic creation but I'm Not There is nothing to be ashamed of either for Dylan, or Haynes.

I'm Not There opens today