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I can’t believe this movie was on my radar for so long without me having watched it. Well, I finally did, and it blew my tentative anticipation away. Mr. Nobody is an existential masterpiece, effortlessly blending together complex philosophical themes, entrancing emotional odysseys, and what seems like a dozen versions of the same character to create a pseudo-Science Fiction film that is a cousin to many, but an imitation of none.
The plot, such as it is, navigates layers of fantasy, memory, and narrative reality to tell the story of Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto), an 118 year old man about to die in the year 2092. He happens to be the last living mortal human, and his story is of great interest to everyone. Especially since very little is known about him and there’s no record of his life. Is Nemo the fabrication of a younger version of himself, who writes science fiction as a teen? Is Old Nemo the real one, the point from which all this emanates? The film doesn’t tell you and like whether or not Cobb is dreaming in Inception, it doesn’t really matter. You can believe the story about the Angels of Oblivion and Nemo’s ability to predict the future, or you can chalk it up to cycles of expansion and entropy. The film invites both metaphysical and hard science foundations on which to explore the themes.
It’s very difficult to write a review for this film. I almost need to watch it again. I can say that it’s a mistake to approach it as a “puzzle movie” or one that needs to be “figured out”. A lot of people will go into it like that. They’ll wonder, as the young journalist wonders, which of the stories Nemo Nobody tells is the “true” one. As Nemo himself says when confronted with this, “Every path is the right path.” which is to say that life doesn’t have a “true version” but can pick itself up and carry itself off in any direction imaginable.
It’s as much to examine our tendency toward focusing on big, sweeping moments of change than on just how chaotic every single moment really is, that causes Jaco Van Dormael to use three specific points in Nemo’s life as the internal reference points through which we can examine regret, choice, and chance. The film acknowledges that every moment is another chance for everything to change, the specific points of time that have so impacted Nemo are such because they involve formative relationships with his parents and with the three possible women he could spend his life with. It is especially in these relationships, which are all varied and reflect on the man Nemo could become, that we understand why Old Nemo can’t settle on one version. Imagined, predicted, or somehow lived… all three possibilities (and even more variances in each) lead Nemo, and the viewer, down a different path.
The suggestion is that whatever we choose, life is going to happen to us. That seems simplistic but the film is smart enough to tackle the choice vs. chance question. Otherwise you might be left with a tangled web of “is this determined or not?” which is sort of the point of the Angels of Oblivion/Precognitive thing. In other words, the film deals with the choice vs. chance binary in the same way Nemo deals with the question of which life is the true life: the only viable move is to not move. Which is kind of like taking the third option, I guess, as evidenced by 9 year old Nemo who runs off into the country rather than choosing Father or Mother.
Anyway, you need to see this movie. I can’t properly review it. It’s the kind of thing you have to sit down and explore with someone and I was dumb enough to watch it alone. The only other thing I want to say is that philosophically rich stuff like this only comes around every so often. Not to mention that the film, while dense, is very entertaining and also funny in a detached sort of way. It looks good, every performance is moving, and it will leave you feeling uplifted and hungry for life.