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Mr. Nobody – film review

December 12, 2012


Life, the universe and everything.

mr nobody - jared leto

Written & Directed by Jaco Van Dormael. Starring: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh-Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans, Natasha Little, Toby Regbo and Juno Temple. Released in 2009. Running time: 157 mins.

Every now and then, a movie appears in my life which is so damn affecting, it leaves me completely and utterly gobsmacked as to why I had never heard of it before. One recent example is Mr Nobody – a French, German, Canadian, Belgian co-production originally released in 2009 which, until a friend of mine lent me a copy last week, I never knew existed. With a budget of $47 Million, it was the most expensive film produced in Belgium. It was Jaco Van Dormael’s third feature (after Toto The Hero and The Eighth Day) and his first filmed entirely in English. The film received a ten minute standing ovation at the Venice film festival in 2009.

In the year 2092, Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) – the world’s oldest living mortal – looks back on his one hundred and eighteen year history and the parallel lives he may – or may not – have lived.

It all begins when nine year old Nemo’s parents seperate and he faces an impossible choice: whether to go live with his mother in Canada or stay with his father in the UK. From this moment, the film charts Nemo’s potential futures based on this one decision. It is his relationships with three different women in three parallel lives which define him as a person. In the first, he is stifled in a loveless marriage (of his own making) with Jean (Linh Dan Pham) – a woman who adores him, but whose love is not reciprocated. The second is Anna (Diane Kruger) – his one true love and soul mate. And the third is Elise (Sarah Polley), a troubled soul suffering from chronic depression who has never loved him the way he loves her.

The film’s non-linear narrative intercuts back and forth between these different timelines – as Nemo’s different selves intersect with these women at different stages in his parallel lives – age nine, fifteen and thirty-five. While this may sound complex and potentially confusing, be rest assured it is all remarkably well thought out and easy to follow once it gets going. However, this only begins to scratch the surface of what Mr. Nobody is ultimately about. It is much more than its central message that our lives are defined by the choices we make. It is also a larger meditation on the universe itself as defined firstly by science (string theory, quantum physics, the butterfly effect, the nature of time, entropy, the biology of attraction, The Big Bang and The Big Crunch). And secondly and more interestingly – in a metaphysical context – covering esoteric subjects like reincarnation, the nature of the soul, life after death, romantic love, soul mates, precognition, deja vu, intuition and dreams. In this respect, I guess the film could be considered as a kind of mash-up of aspects of the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring Sliding Doors mixed with the awe-inspiring grandeur of Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life.

mr nobody - bath time

The casting of the film couldn’t be any more perfect. Jared Leto’s performance is quite remarkable in the way he is able to create subtle points of difference between the various versions of himself while maintaining a believable consistency of character. Also notable is Sarah Polley as the self-loathing Elise – she brings much pathos and understanding to a thankless role. Also particularly good are Toby Regbo and Juno Temple (daughter of British film director Julian Temple) as the fifteen-year-old incarnations of Nemo and Anna. The casting of Diane Kruger as Anna’s older self also works extremely well.

mr nobody - nemo aged 118

The old age makeup on Jared Leto is very effective, allowing the actor to shine with his convincing portrayal of the 118 year old Nemo. Just like David Bowie in The Hunger, Leto nails the voice and mannerisms of a much older man. A remarkable performance. The cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne is stunningly beautiful in its simplicity. Virtually every shot is worthy of being framed and hung in a gallery. It is certainly one of the more aesthetic films of recent years, with startling moments of all-out surrealism – recalling in particular the paintings of Rene Magritte.

mr nobody - the year 2092

The CGI rendering of the future here is impressive and yet low-key – without drawing undue attention away from the story, which is kind of refreshing. The 225 visual effects shots in this movie were created by Canadian visual effects company Rodeo FX.

mr nobody - bound for mars

Despite the fact the film is teeming with visual effects (some less obvious than others), this is not really a sci-fi film per se. If anything it’s a romance in the same way Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain could be classed as a romance. Unlike other films which attempt to explore the meaning of life, this is not a film which pits science and religion against one another in some kind of dogmatic uber-stoush, so don’t go in expecting that kind of – well, quite frankly – tiresome debate. No, like no film before it, this film attempts nothing less than to unify the metaphysical and scientific views of the universe and our place within it. It is for this reason perhaps the most important film of the last decade.

A film which explores big ideas – free from pretense and preachiness, its only agenda is to gently encourage us to ponder the very nature of our lives, which it does with enormous grace and sensitivity.

If you enjoy the challenge of complex, metaphysically-themed films like Enter The Void, The Tree Of Life and The Fountain – then you’ll find much to enjoy with Mr. Nobody.

It is, quite simply, the best film I’ve seen this year – or any year – ever.

5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.


From → film reviews

  1. Wow – high praise indeed! I have seen this a couple of times, being Jared Letos #1 fan I bought this on Blu Ray last year. Staggeringly beautiful isnt it! I havent managed to sum up the courage to review it yet, never sure where to start trying to describe it. I cant believe with all the money etc that went into this it never got a proper release.

    Superb write up Greg, look forward to your thoughts on LOVE one day since that is on a par with this movie for me in terms on visuals and thought provoking cinema.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Tyson! Yeah, Jared Leto rocks doesn’t he? Man, I am so jealous you get to see it on blu-ray. Unfortunately it hasn’t even been released here on standard dvd – let alone high-def. And there’s no point in me ordering it on blu-ray from overseas, as I don’t own a region-free BR player. You should probably do a write up on it, you know. Just so more people know about it. I loved what you did with your LOVE review and I will definitely review LOVE once it comes to blu-ray here. 🙂

      • I am jealous you can buy Underbelly on DVD, cant get it over here at all except season 1.

        Some blu rays are mutli region though, may be one you could find cheap?

        I will do my write up, but the LOVE one took so long, and I imagine this will too if I want to do it justice. Soon though! Thanks buddy 🙂

  2. I see that as promised you wrote your Mr. Nobody review 🙂 I loved it! And I am really glad that more people are becoming aware of this film! 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Hey ‘M’. Nice to have you comment. 🙂 Yeah, the more people who know about this film the better! I’d love to see you do a write up on it too sometime! 🙂

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