“Mr. Nobody” Falls Short of Its Story-Telling
In the early moments of Mr. Nobody, a new film currently available through Video on Demand platforms that releases in theaters on November 1st, nine-year-old Nemo stands on the platform at a train station. His parents are splitting up, and he has a terrible decision to make: Does he get on the train and leave with his mother, or does he stay behind with his father? He stands at a metaphorical fork in the road, and each choice will lead to a unique life and very different future.
The remainder of the film jumps somewhat randomly between the multiple realities created each time Nemo makes a major life decision – which parent to live with, which woman to marry, etc. A 118-year-old Nemo narrates portions of the film as he looks back on his life (lives?) and recounts the events that resulted from the choices he’s made. The film is told in brief fragments, and only by the end of its two hours and twenty minutes do we truly understand what we’ve seen. Maybe.
Portrayed by Jared Leto as an adult and Toby Regbo as a teenager, Nemo remains a bit of a cipher throughout Mr. Nobody. We see what happens to him at critical junctures in his multiple realities, but we never really get to know Nemo, the person. I found many scenes to be fascinating, but the film frequently kept me at arm’s length. I witnessed Nemo’s lives, but I rarely cared what happened to him.
Mr. Nobody ponders heavy topics: the meaning of life, destiny, fate and the results of the choices we make. The attention paid to patterns, coincidences and the ripples that can be created by a single decision reminded me of Cloud Atlas, a far superior exploration of these themes. There is a great deal to enjoy in Mr. Nobody, but the film ultimately feels like an academic exercise that generated little emotional investment in the outcome.
The film is written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael who clearly wants to challenge his viewers with an unusual narrative framework while simultaneously doubting their abilities to follow the story and grasp its point. Consequently, we are given one reality where Nemo is a college professor or science broadcaster, and he intermittently explains to us the enormity of what we are seeing. He provides simplified explanations of animal behavior, instincts, quantum physics, alternative realities, etc. When the film begins to spin out of control, Professor Nemo arrives to explain to the audience what we already know or have intuited. At a minimum, these sequences are distracting. At worst, they are annoying.
The 118-year-old Nemo who lives in a sci-fi-looking future proves to be irrelevant and is ultimately a bit of a MacGuffin. He is the last man on Earth who will die, barely missing out on scientific improvements in longevity and immortality. He is narrating his story to a reporter who sneaks into his hospital room. We expect the character to provide us some kind of insight and closure. Instead, the finale renders his inclusion in the film nearly irrelevant.
I have mentioned in previous reviews that some movies are “eye of the beholder” films. You simply have to see it and judge for yourself. To some extent, given the subjective nature of film criticism, EVERY movie is an “eye of the beholder” film. But certain movies seem to fall more strongly in that category than others. Mr. Nobody is such a film. Give it a try and see what you think.
Some part of me thinks that Mr. Nobody is a film that needs to be seen twice before it can be accurately judged. The context of the first half of the film is illuminated by its second half, and it may be a more enjoyable viewing experience the second time around because viewers won’t be preoccupied with attempting to guess what happens next or solving the riddles contained within the narrative. I liked it enough to give it a second watch some day, but I think it will only confirm that its flaws outweigh its merits.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.