Watching Todd Hayne’s “I’m Not There” brought a strange kind of joy to my soul when I saw it three days ago. For the first time, I really understood what my Uncle John was telling me about whenever he talked about Bob Dylan. Even when we walked out of “Walk Hard” back over Christmas (a movie that hilariously spoofs Bob Dylan) my Uncle couldn’t resist demystifyng the Bob Dylan mystique just a little more.
“Bob Dylan,” he would say, “That guy was a fucking performer. That’s it.”
I can already hear the outcries. But Bob Dylan was a voice of a generation! He cared about changing the world and stuff like that!
I have to admit: I’m not a big Bob Dylan guy. I never really listened to the guy’s stuff. Sure, I’ve heard some of his songs in movies and on the radio on occasion, but I never made an effort to go out and actually buy a record of his (and I realize in this iPod generation that the word ‘record’ seems almost anachronistic. Deal with it.) All I really had to go by was what my good ‘ol Uncle John told me all these years.
And yet Todd Haynes showed me exactly what my Uncle had been telling me about. Through each of the six actors that portrays Dylan, we understand that he is certainly a unique character that could never be fit in the tiny bottle of a Generation’s Icon. In fact, doing so would seem almost like an insult. He was way more interesting than that. And he wasn’t out to try and save the world. He was just trying to do what he was good at and live his life.
But I was quickly reminded shortly after I saw the movie at how misunderstood Bob Dylan really is. After I asked one of my friends what she thought of the movie, she said it was “horrible” and that there was “no point to it”. She said that Haynes was going out to try and make something epic, but instead it was meandering and pedantic. And the biggest complaint that audiences love to throw at a movie? It has no PLOT. It’s just a bunch of scenes thrown together.
I could only smile when I heard this. The whole point of Hayne’s movie is that there is no point, just as the whole point of Bob Dylan’s career is that there was no true point. There was no agenda. All he was doing was being himself. Everyone wanted to ask him what his songs meant, what hidden meaning could be found behind all his lyrics. They would dissect every word he said as if he was some crazy-haired prophet. And when he gave them less-than-perfect answers, people couldn’t understand it. A couple of lines from Cate Blanchett’s character, Jude Quinn, sums this up:
You know, I didn’t come out of some cereal box. There’s no one out there who’s gonna be converted by a song.
People actually think I have some kind of a fantastic imagination. It gets very lonesome.
And with that, I believe Hayne’s biopic (if you should even call it that) absolutely delivers on its promise. Everyone expected Dylan to write songs that would transform the world and that he would be some kind of musical messiah. But he was just Bob Dylan. A unique individual. And if people don’t understand that, then they will never understand this brilliant movie.
ALSO: If you only see one thing in this movie, check out Jim James’ cover of Dylan’s “Going to Acapulco”. I swear I’ve seen this scene (thanks to the power of Youtube) at least 10 times already and have become terribly obsessed with it. It’s one of the highlights in a movie full of great moments.