"People are always talking about freedom. Freedom to live a certain way, without being kicked around. Course the more you live a certain way, the less it feels like freedom. Me, uhm, I can change during the course of a day. I wake and I'm one person, when I go to sleep I know for certain I'm somebody else. I don't know who I am most of the time. It's like you got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room. There's no telling what can happen."I'm Not There
— Billy the Kid (Closing Narration)
is a 2007 biopic—sort of
—based on the life of Bob Dylan
. Directed by Todd Haynes
, the film uses 5 different actors (and one actress
) to portray him; all playing Dylan at different roles in his life.
- Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) is a black 11-year old boy traveling across America trying to find his place. He represents Dylan's Mysterious Past and lies. His name comes from Dylan's idol, Woody Guthrie.
- Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) represents Dylan's folk era. Done in the style of a documentary looking back, it chronicles Rollins' rise to fame and his ultimate disillusion with it. Jack later becomes Pastor John, showing Dylan's exploration into Christianity.
- Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) is Dylan in his rock stage: abrasive, fragile, and drug-addicted. Haynes wanted the role to be played by a woman to capture Dylan's felineness in this period of his life.
- Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) is a film star that plays Jack Rollins in the film Grain of Sand. However, this section focuses mainly on his relationship with Claire. He displays Dylan's attitude in relationships and his misogyny.
- Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) is an outlaw in the bush - the little town of Riddle. He represents Dylan in our times.
- Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) seems to be in a court scene. Not really having a storyline of his own, he pops in and out throughout the film with small sections of script - mostly actual Dylan quotes. Named for the poet.
This film provides examples of:
- Anachronic Order: The Dylans are introduced in chronological order, but thereafter the film jumps between them.
- Arc Words: "Freedom."
- Bishōnen: Ben Whishaw as Arthur Rimbaud certainly qualifies, and if I'm not mistaken, Jude Quinn does too.
- Captain Ersatz / No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Dylans obviously, but other characters count too, such as Alice Fabian (Joan Baez), Coco Rivington (Edie Sedgwick), and Sara (who is a Composite Character of Dylan's wives/girlfriends). Interestingly enough, the one celebrity who isn't disguised in some way is Allen Ginsberg, played by David Cross.
- Chekhov's Gun: Woody's guitar.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Jude Quinn, big time. Deconstructed, of course, as he is in fact a very erudite and intelligent person, but his drugs and alcohol abuse, and his mainly jerkass attitude, has left him as a really fried mad artist. This is true for the mid-60s Dylan, as he was constantly using drugs and going to clubs, and meeting people like Edie (Andy Warhol's diva), and Brian Jones, and The Beatles.
- Crosscast Role: Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn.
- Dedication: To director Todd Haynes' late editor Jim Lyons.
- Faux Documentary: The Jack Rollins story.
- Film Within A Film: The in-universe Biopic Grain of Sand stars Robbie Clark as Jack Rollins.
- Framing Device: Several, including Rimbaud's court scene, the funeral home, and the train.
- Funny Background Event: After Jude hangs with—and turns on—"John Paul and George" (a.k.a. The Beatles), the latter group exits with their fans chasing them (a la A Hard Days Night).
- Gainax Ending
- The Ghost: Arthur Rimbaud's interrogators.
- Insufferable Genius: Jude Quinn has shades of this.
- In the Style of...: The Jude Quinn segment is directed in the style of Fellini's 8½
- the Robbie Clark segment was inspired by the films of Jean-Luc Godard
- Richard Gere's was shot in the style of Sam Peckinpah's "hippie westerns" of the 1960s. Don't forget that Dylan appeared in Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, besides composing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
- Jerk Ass: Jude Quinn
- Mind Screw
- Misaimed Fandom: An in-universe example, as the Black Panthers use Quinn/Dylan's song Ballad of a Thin Man as a rallying cry for their cause. This is Truth in Television.
- Recursive Reality: Jack Rollins is the "real life" version of Jude Quinn (as evidenced by his appearance in "her" yearbook). The story featuring Billy the Kid is implied to take place within the mind of Jude Quinn, too (Pat Garret is played by the same actor who plays the British reporter who harasses Jude/Jack). Accentuated in the end when Billy the Kid finds Woody Guthrie's guitar on the boxcar train.
- Shout-Out: Contains various ones to Dylan's life and work, some more subtle than others.
- Sweet on Polly Oliver: Cate Blanchett. Period.
- Titled After the Song: A previously-unreleased Dylan tune that—until this movie—existed only in bootleg form.
- Unreliable Narrator: Woody in particular, but practically the whole movie counts as one.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: The movie understandably is loaded with Bob Dylan references, some more subtle than others. It takes an absolute expert to get them all.
- What Might Have Been: Colin Farrell was originally cast as Robbie Clark, but had to be replaced by Heath Ledger after the former checked himself into rehab.
- Originally it was pitched with a seventh Dylan, to be told as a silent movie.
- Wild Mass Guessing: The movie portrays all interpretations of Dylan's music as this.