“We cannot go back; that’s why it’s hard to choose.” (Nemo)
Nemo Nobody is 118 years old and the only remaining mortal human in the year 2092. Who is this man called Mr. Nobody? No one knows, including himself. There are no records of his 118 years of existence and the stories he tells a young reporter are contradictory. After an opening tutorial on the adaptive behavior of a bird stimulated by varying conditions, we are given a sequence of a 34 year old Nemo dying in multiple ways. We then meet the 118 year old Mr. Nobody who is confused by the psych doctor mistaking his age, which he believed to still be 34. We “learn” who Nemo is through interviews with the physician and a reporter only to wonder, as they do, which choice was the one actually made? And where do these death scenes come in?
Nemo occupies four primary ages in the multiple storylines presented: 9, 15, 34 and 118. The transitions are most usually facilitated by an emergence from sleep, water or story. Birth imagery, railways, roadways, dreaming…The divergences in timelines stem from multiple sources, but the most significant choice is whether at age nine he goes with his mother or his father when they divorce. At 15, depending on with which parent he resides, it is with whom does he fall in love and how does that play out? At 34 he is at another crossroads, often of a reassessing nature: where had his choices gotten him.
There are three girls from Nemo’s neighborhood who dictate three primary love interests who are cast in multiple outcomes. Anna appears more central than the other two, associated with red; Elise with blue, and Jean, the least and most forgettable (to Nemo, anyway), of the three in yellow. They are visually very different, so the color associations are of interest, though I am stumped by the blue. Nemo’s hair and glasses change depending on which branch and limb he is occupying in the story. The special effects make-up—especially the old-age make-up and the scar—is phenomenal. The casting of the younger Nemos is smart not only in looks but abilities. I do not know how you feel about Jared Leto’s performance in his band 30 Seconds to Mars, but he does exceptional work in Mr. Nobody.
The personalities of the primary characters are consistent irrespective of timeline/situation. The settings vary and fluidly move from “sets” to models to locations. Mind the detail in the sets. Writer/Director Jaco Van Dormael moves through levels of consciousness, even taking us to Mars via a story a teenaged Nemo is writing—even as travel to Mars is shown to be possible by 2092. There is a “timeless” quality that is facilitated by “classic” objects mixed among the new—with the future being an exception. But 2092 is supposed to be an exception, a terminus of anything that is suggestive of a life being lived; sex was rendered obsolete, there is “quasi-mortality,” it is antiseptic. The terminus questions what a life “lived enough” looks like, this is where those few stories involving Jean reside so importantly in juxtaposition with the other two love lines, e.g. on one line, a 15 year old Nemo lays out and pursues a set of goals with a “safe choice” (however “fated” in appearance) and to what end (for either of them)?
Nemo Nobody aged 118: “Most of the time nothing happened… like a French movie.”
As with that opening, the Carl Sagan-esque lectures (by an iteration of Nemo) interspersed throughout inform the narrative significantly (see “Big Bang” here). The platform for the hypnotic state visited informs as well, but the presence and repetition of argyle is disturbing on so many levels (Halloween costume anyone?). The repetition of objects, colors, patterns contribute to meaning and tension, and help with a fluidity in the narrative–despite the increasing confusion and exasperation of viewer and interviewer. Which memory is a true one? What choice did 9 year old Nemo make, and every age after, that caused him to be where he is—a position that has confounded their record-keeping? Natalya* was not satisfied with the film’s explanation. Annoyance with a film she decided was taking too long exhausted her patience with the outcome. And the film does linger in moments, in precious interactions, in gorgeously composed scenes. Mr. Nobody is a film that takes its time and I thought it paid off (at least up to a scene I will call “5:50”). In what amounts to a contemplation on choices and the infamous “what if,” Mr. Nobody employs hard and soft sciences for its fiction(s). It is visually entrancing and oft uncomfortable. And not just uncomfortable in the realization that no ‘hunky-dory’ line exists. What does it mean to live, to remember, and to imagine a life unfold before (and behind) you? What would make Mr. Nobody somebody?
Mr. Nobody (2009). Written & Directed by Jaco Van Dormael; Music by Pierre Van Dormael; Cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne; by Editing by Matyas Veress & Susan Shipton; Produced by Philippe Godeau; Studio Pan-Européenne; Starring: Jared Leto (Nemo Nobody: 34/118), Rhys Ifans (Nemo’s father), Natasha Little (Nemo’s mother), Diane Kruger (adult Anna), Sarah Polley (adult Elise), Lin Dam Pham (adult Jean), Thomas Byrne (Nemo 9), Toby Regbo (Nemo 15). Belgian (English-speaking version).
Running time 141 minutes. Not-Rated, but equivalent a PG-13, due to language and sexual content. *Sean and I were able to censor our 12 year old, having seen the film before.
a 2013 science fiction experience.