Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There is an audacious and ingeniously conceived, if overlong and diluted free verse composition on the enigma of legendary artist, iconoclast, seeker, and voice of a generation, Bob Dylan. Haynes’s idiosyncratic portrait of the artist as a loosely interwoven collage of overlapping incarnations filmed in different stylistic genres that reflect the inhabited personas embodied by Dylan is particularly inspired. Illustrated as a picaresque adventure, Dylan is a charismatic, young drifter with a nebulous (and seemingly troubled) past named Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), whose penchant for outmoded folksongs reflects his old soul. Shot as a grainy, early television broadcast, he metamorphoses into poet, Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) whose writing reflected a sense of indulgent, libertine anarchy. Presented as a 1950s rebellious youth film, he is tortured artist, Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) seeking to maintain the relevance of his music in turbulent times. Framed as a 1970s, “me generation” film, he is an alienated rock star, Robbie (Heath Ledger) struggling between the temptations (and excesses) of celebrity and his failing marriage. Depicted as newsreel footage, he is a misunderstood, chameleon-like personality, Jude (Cate Blanchett), whose creative integrity (and sincerity) comes under attack in the face of his increasing musical and recreational experimentation. And finally, filmed as a western, he is a reclusive outlaw, Billy the Kid (Richard Gere), still haunted by the shadows of his legendary fame. Using parallel personality traits as a means of self-referentially that connects the disparate personas – Woody and Jack’s search for salt of the earth authenticity, Arthur and Jude’s (implied) sexual ambiguity, Robbie and Jude’s disillusionment with fame – Haynes creates an initially cohesive portrait of the artist as a young man that ultimately unravels under the weight of increasingly indulgent and only marginally connected vignettes (most notably, in the inclusion of the uninvolving, hermetic Billy the Kid persona which does little to expound on the Dylan enigma).
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