Saturday 8 September 2018

Movie Review: Mr. Nobody (2009)

A thought-provoking drama exploring the nature of life itself, Mr. Nobody is visually stunning and full of ideas about human interactions, dependencies, and the far-reaching consequences of everyday decisions.

It's the year 2092, quasi-immortality is the norm, and 118 year-old Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) is the last mortal on earth. With his health failing and memory fading, a doctor hypnotizes Nemo to help draw out his memories, and separately a young journalist conducts an interview.

Nemo's life stories are non-linear, scattered and often contradicting. He describes various outcomes as if they were separate lives lived, dependant on different crucial decisions he could have made. A critical juncture occurred at nine years old, when his parents separated and Nemo had to decide whether to join his departing mother (Natasha Little) or stay with his father (Rhys Ifans).

With his mother, Nemo falls in love with his soulmate Anna (Juno Temple at 15 and Diane Kruger as an adult), the daughter of his mother's new partner, although finding happiness will be difficult for the young lovers. With his father, Nemo is infatuated with the unstable Elise (Clare Stone at 15 and Sarah Polley as an adult). In one branch, their marriage is challenged by her mental state. In other iterations, an explosion wrecks their life together before it can start, or Nemo lets Elise get away and instead marries Jeanne (Linh Dan Pham), without much forethought.

In many instances throughout his possible lives, Nemo faces serious accidents and near-death experiences, including a motorcycle crash and a car-in-the-lake accident. Another thread features Nemo writing about a man traveling to Mars to spread the ashes of his lost love, an experience that Nemo also possibly lives through.

Written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael, Mr. Nobody is aesthetically stunning and mentally exhilarating. Tackling no less a topic than the meaning of life and the role of the individual in crafting its trajectory, Mr. Nobody uniquely articulates a brand of answers. Everything matters, every decision counts, every outcome is a gateway for more choices, and the destination is a lot less important than the road traveled.

Van Dormael's achievement resides in packaging thoughtful philosophy into a coherent narrative. The film never sits still and jumps around in space and time, Nemo's various versions and stages of life intermingling. But the film quickly gets into a rhythm, and it's relatively easy to follow the divergent trajectories. Mr. Nobody can be accused of almost stuffing too much into its 141 minutes (a longer 157 minute director's cut also exists), but the questions being asked are profound enough to justify the investment.

The film captures Nemo's key highlights, the moments in life which resonate eternally. The decision point between mom and dad at the train station is a stark fork in the tracks. Later, the first love between Nemo and Anna is soulful and poignant, and contrasted with the heat and turbulence of Nemo's relationship with Elise. The chapters with Jeanne offer a further contrast, but are relatively shortchanged in terms of screen time.

Jared Leto delivers one of his most impressive performances, finding resigned emotion even under a ton of makeup as a 118 year old man confined to bed. Tony Regbo and Juno Temple as the 15 year old versions of Nemo and Anna are also notable.

At every turn, Van Dormael crafts his film with loving attention to detail and an eye to dazzling visuals, imaginative transitions and expressive use of colour. Mr. Nobody is as rich as life, full of mysterious opportunity and possibility, waiting to be steered by ironically fleeting whims.

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