Mr. Nobody (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
“Mr. Nobody,” written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael, is one of those movies with a plot so vast and far-reaching that one can only attempt to describe its surface.
Telomerization, which prevents chromosomes from reaching a state of senescence, is a science that has been conquered. Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) is the last of his kind: a 117-year-old man capable of dying due to old age. Naturally, this makes him a celebrity. A journalist (Daniel Mays) assigned to interview him is perplexed because Nemo admits on tape that he has lived several lives: a choice not made at the time is later made once the former choice—and the life thereafter—has run its course.
I admire movies with a whole lot of ambition instead of simply relying on same old thing. But movies that dare to dream and push the envelope should be supported by a screenplay that is consistently intelligent or insightful and commanding a certain level of clarity. Since the script lacks such qualities in certain sections, I am afraid that many will be lost somewhere in the folds of its alternate realities. Though it is two-and-half hours long, it does not come off successful in conveying everything it hopes to accomplish.
The movie is beautifully shot. In a way, it needs to be visually appealing because it invites us to look into a possible future that is filled with uncertainty. I enjoyed that even though science has made immortality possible, sometimes it feels almost like an afterthought. The future people continue to live their lives and we get only glimpses of their reality. At one point, the journalist asks the old man how it was like to have sex in the past. In the present, sex is obsolete.
There are three women in Nemo’s life—or lives—and they are given appropriate time on screen. As the film goes on, it becomes clear why Anna (Diane Kruger as an adult, Juno Temple as a teenager), Elise (Sarah Polley, Clare Stone), and Jean (Linh Dan Pham, Audrey Giacomini) end up making a lasting impression on our protagonist. Each woman offers Nemo a different dimension of love. Conversely, he is required, depending on the woman, to love in a specific way. We watch Nemo receiving and providing love. Therefore, it is necessarily that Leto give at least three different performances.
The way the screenplay sets up its alternate realities comes with a cost. Because it jumps from one life to another without a defined pattern, the material fails to build continuously. Though I realize it is not the movie that was made, perhaps it might have worked better if we were allowed to start with a life and then seeing it all the way through before moving onto a new one. This way, philosophical musings clearly designed to get the audience to think or consider might not have been lost in the shuffle.
A subplot that ought to have been front and center is criminally ignored at times. What triggers young Nemo’s ability (Thomas Byrne) to live multiple lives is his parents’ separation (Rhys Ifans, Natasha Little): he must decide whether to stay with his father in England or move to America with his mother. Why is it that we do not get more scenes of teenage Nemo (Toby Regbo, providing a wonderful layer angst and verve) interacting with his parents? At times it is almost like the movie is dealing with a disease in a nonsensical way: only dealing with the symptoms but rarely the root of the problem.
“Mr. Nobody” is an experience but it fails to make a lasting impression because select critical pieces are either not dealt with or merely pushed to the side. Just about halfway through I wondered how more effective it would have been given that it had embraced a more cerebral rather than a sentimentalized approach.