“Mr. Nobody” juggles its balls with all the ambition it has, but I could not hold on to that. As going back and forth between its five or six parallel timelines, it eventually loses its ground and then gets lost in its confusing plot, and I only looked at its parallel life stories from the distance. As a result, the ‘surprise’ revealed around the ending is not as powerful as intended, and it even feels like a cheap ending while many things in the movie still do not make much sense. I constantly felt confused and detached during the screening, and I must say watching this film was a rare theater experience in which I had to suppress my personal urge to boo or shout “bullsh*t!” for more than 2 hours.
I am not sure about how to describe its complicated plot structure precisely to you, but let’s say it seemed at first that everything in the story comes from the memories of a very old guy named Mr. Nemo Nobody. Played by Jared Leto with the make-up which makes him look like the hybrid of a 200-year-old Galapagos tortoise and Dustin Hoffman in “Little Big Man”(1970), Nemo is officially the last mortal man in the late 21th century society where other human beings on the Earth are enjoying immortality thanks to advanced medical technology, and the people around the world are eagerly watching on Nemo spending his few remaining days.
It is 2092, and Nemo is 118 years old at present. While he is still a stubborn old soul despite his frail body, his mind is frequently confused about his early life despite his officious tattooed doctor’s help, and a young reporter who visits him for the interview finds Nemo’s life story too incredible to believe; he did live for long years, but how could he possibly go through three different lives at the same time?
We see how that can be possible as his story is told along with the hokey narrations/speeches about life and universe which increasingly annoyed and distracted me for their ponderous attitude. In addition to Nemo’s wistful and melancholic narration, the movie is also saddled with young Nemo’s innocent and plucky narration, so we get an unintentionally hilarious sight in which every child to be born into the world are innocuously walking around in the Heaven before kissed by the angel to get their heavenly memories erased and then be sent to their biological parents. I would not have been surprised if the movie had showed them delivered by storks.
According to young Nemo, he remembers his time before his official birth because the angel somehow did not kiss him. Probably for that reason, he is equipped with the ability to see the future; he can clearly see his small moments of choice are the crucial turning points of his life, and he can also see how his choices will resonate throughout his life. For instance, when he sees three young girls sitting together on the bench, three individual images of wedding days come upon his mind literally side by side; I guess that means each of them has an equal chance of being his spouse.
His most important turing point was the day when he had to choose between his dad and mom(Rhys Ifans and Natasha Little) after their divorce, so the movie rolls two separate timelines: the one where Nemo chooses his mom and the other one where Nemo comes to live with his dad. The movie goes even further in case of the latter, so we get not only another timeline for Nemo but also a SF story being written by him around the time he falls into coma due to a car accident after one of his fateful choices.
The movie frequently jumps between these parallel timelines as if everything were really happening simultaneously in the universe. Nemo wakes up with lots of confusion about his life many times, and he is mostly unhappy regardless of which timeline he is in or which woman he is with. In one case, he falls in love with Anna, the daughter of his mother’s new boyfriend, and then they are separated from each other in a tearful situation, and then they meet again after many years have passed – and then they are separated again through an unbelievable event which is explained by the movie as a textbook example of the Butterfly Effect, one of the well-known terms in that famous chaos theory.
The screenplay written by the director Jaco Van Dormael tries hard with its ambitious ideas, but it only scratches the surface while feeling more superficial, and most of its parallel plots feel flat and tepid despite the nice efforts from its actors. The movie probably looked like a good challenge to Jared Leto, and this talented actor admirably carries the movie while flexibly going through many different modes throughout the film; in fact, the movie could have been more confusing if it had not been for him. Toby Regbo and Juno Temple are good as Nemo and Anna in their teenager years, and, as older Anna, Diane Kruger interacts nicely with Jared Leto, though their part eventually loses its way just like the other parts.
As the story approaches to its ending, more strange things happen around Nemo, and the movie has some nice moments such as when Nemo is bewildered by a surreal construction work process in front of his house. By that point, you will probably be not that surprised when the movie finally reveals what is really happening from the beginning.
I was well aware of that its story is told through an unreliable character with fuzzy memory, but I was frequently baffled while trying to get the overview, and I could not care much about how the story would be unfolded and then finished. Though it was made in 2009, “Mr. Nobody” arrived pretty late in US(and South Korea) despite its continuous screenings at several film festivals. I found that a bit weird when I heard about the movie, but now I have a pretty good idea about how that could happen.