‘Mr. Nobody’ Review
At the 44-minute mark (I checked) of ‘Mr. Nobody,’ I loudly sighed and asked, “Good God, when the hell is this movie going to START!”
Featuring various narrators, time-loops and narrative branches emblematic of the “multiple worlds theory,” Jaco Van Dormael’s ‘Mr. Nobody’ — starring Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Juno Temple and a whole mess of special effects shots — is the type of far-out science-fiction that usually inspires in me an enthusiastic response. But as with last year’s similar ‘Cloud Atlas,’ (similar in that both films are defiantly different) this is a movie that ultimately collapses under its own weight. Its relentless cinematic tricksterism soon becomes unbearable, and its themes, while thought-provoking, are so unsubtle you’ll exit this near two-and-a-half-hour film in need of a nap.
After a barrage of disconnected images we settle in the future. Jared Leto, under much makeup, is the world’s last mortal, and at age 118 he is on his deathbed. His journey to the undiscovered country is worldwide news among a populace living in eternal youth, thanks to porcine stem cell regeneration. (The specifics are vague.) And while the future may have gleaming towers and far-out tablet tech, it dosn’t seem to have any records of what life was like for the mortals of the 21st Century. Doctors and journalists try to get inside the head of our aged protagonist, named Nemo Nobody, but his contradictory tales do nothing but frustrate.
Nemo Nobody isn’t just the last living mortal, he’s someone who, for whatever reason, can recall different versions of his past. If you buy the “multiple worlds theory” (and professional eggheads as esteemed as Professor Stephen Hawking do) it suggests that every possible outcome of every physical reaction exists in its own universe. So, when you went to a bake sale and decided at the last minute to buy an eclair over a Napoleon? The version of you buying the Napoleon is out there, too.
In ‘Mr. Nobody,’ this manifests itself in taking peeks at the life of our hero with the three different loves of his life. While this is certainly a common fantasy (see the Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle ‘Sliding Doors’), this film doesn’t trust it. Like a kid piling on more toppings at a make-your-own-sundae bar, Van Dormael is relentless with his sci-fi concepts and stylistic innovations. One of Leto’s personas is a Neil deGrasse Tyson-esque television cosmologist, affording the film to shoehorn in theories of coiled-up dimensions, the Big Crunch, the specious present and a number of other chapter headers from Brian Greene’s ‘The Elegant Universe.’ The camera swirls, the screen-splits, crafty dioramas and intentionally stagey sets are employed. It all looks cool, but it’s hiding something: with so much story going on, there is, ultimately, no story. It is exhausting.
With what feels like 90% trick shots, ‘Mr. Nobody’ is striking in that the far and away best part of the movie comes from good old fashioned acting. Sarah Polley (one of Leto’s wives) suffers from bipolarism and has a manic episode during their daughter’s birthday party. It’s a heartbreaking scene, but, more to the point, it is a scene. It’s not an ADD-stricken clip that’s given mere seconds of screentime as the movie jumps to one of its 17 other time periods (or the space opera story-within-the-story.)
‘Mr. Nobody’ is certainly ambitious, and, indeed, there are many moments of great merit. Juno Temple, always good, is particularly charming – plus she keeps her clothes on, which might be a first. The set design is top notch and Jaco Van Dormael certainly has a knack for creating tiny moments. A quick internet search shows he has a robust career in television commercials. Perhaps that is the life path he should stick with.
‘Mr. Nobody’ is now available on iTunes/On Demand and hits theaters November 1.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.