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Film / Mr. Nobody

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Mr. Nobody is a 2009 Science Fiction /Fantasy/Romance/Surrealist/Unclassifiable film by Jaco Van Dormael.

Jared Leto plays Nemo Nobody, the last mortal human in a future (specifically, 2092) where advancements in medical technology have cured us of the processes of old age and death. Nemo is 118 years old, and between psych examinations and an unofficial interview, he has quite the story(s) to tell...

One of those inexplicably unmarketed but impressively high-budget hidden treasures, the film was shot in Europe and Montreal in 2007, had its festival premiere in 2009, and was finally released in North America, on disc, in 2011.

Also starring Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley, Linh-Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans, Toby Regbo, Juno Temple and Pascal Duquenne.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alien Sky: In the surreal realm where everyone dresses argyle, the sky has two suns that cast double shadows.
  • Alliterative Name: Nemo Nobody.
  • Alternate Timeline: All the different paths of Nemo's life are alternate timelines to each other.
  • Anachronic Order: Even though we see Nemo's lives unfold mostly linearly, every now and then the story jumps back and forth in years.
  • And You Were There: The journalist who old Nemo has been talking to is seen on the train Nemo tries to catch at the end.
  • At the Crossroads: The train station where Nemo has to decide which parent he wants to live with.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In the timeline where Nemo's mother breaks up with Anna's father, Nemo chases after the car and tries to intercept it by running in front of a pair of headlights. These turn out to be two motorcyclists moving in tandem.
  • Bathtub Bonding: Nemo and Anna do it after meeting each other again as adults.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The one in Nemo's recurring prehistoric dream. Made worse by the fact that it's meant to symbolize Elise's mental disorder keeping her in a distressed state every time he temporarily fends it off.
  • Blank White Void: The Heaven-like place where Nemo and all the others hung out before being born. It's also misty and includes a Unicorn and Angels of Oblivion.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Teenage Nemo writes a story about himself going to Mars, inspired by Elise who makes him promise that if she dies, he'll spread her ashes there. The voyage to Mars actually happens later in the movie, though of course, we don't know how "real" this event is relative to the other, more realistic timelines.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Nemo explicitly states that he lost Anna's phone number because an unemployed man in Brazil boiled an egg for food, eventually resulting in heavy rains on the day he receives the phone number two days later. He also states the reason the man is unemployed is because Nemo bought a different company's jeans six months prior to the egg boiling incident.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Nemo, several times.
  • Central Theme: Nemo's story is about choice and the results of it.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: The sleeper ship headed to Mars has numerous rotating wheel habitats that create artificial gravity. The Space Elevator instead seems to have standard unexplained Artificial Gravity.
  • Colonized Solar System: In the 2090s, Mars is shown being gradually and realistically colonized by humans who travel there in cryosleep. A TV ad on old Nemo's screen implies that the Moon is colonized too.
  • Cradle To Grave Character: Nemo Nobody's story is depicted from the birth to the end of his life. Several times, since it is a Multiple-Choice Future.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Jaco Van Dormael as the unemployed Brazilian man who boils the egg.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Nemo being able to remember possible futures. It's played with, though, seeing as this helps him make his decision in the end.
    Anna: It doesn't seem like it can be much fun, knowing what's going to happen.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: When Nemo describes Elise his recurring dream about being cavemen, it's presented like an old black and white movie.
  • Disposing of a Body: In the timeline with Jean, Nemo gets himself assassinated after pretending to be "Daniel Jones" and a couple of criminals abandon his body in the woods. Later it's put in a morgue and shown to Jean for identification, also explaining the In Medias Res first shot of the movie.
  • Domed Hometown: A variation. The colony on Mars is sealed within a huge airtight tent supported by giant poles.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Nemo's very elaborate "memories" are technically visions of the future.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Shown throughout the movie.
    Nemo: We screwed! Everybody was always screwing.
  • Everything Is an iPod in the Future: Old Nemo's hospital room, for starters. The sleeper ship as well.
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: The first pair of possible parents Nemo sees is Texan, with the cowboy hat-wearing husband happily telling him: "Blonde an' blue-eyed, that's all I'm askin'!"
  • Eye Cam: Early on when Old Nemo looks through his fingers at Dr. Feldheim.
  • Facial Markings: The psychologist Dr. Feldheim.
  • Failed a Spot Check:
    • How Nemo got his omniscience; before conception the souls of unborn children can see their futures. When a child is conceived their memories are wiped, locking a single set of memories in place. Those responsible for wiping memories (Nemo calls them "Angels of Oblivion") forgot about Nemo, meaning he could remember multiple pathways (though isolated to large-scale events).
    • The timeline of Nemo's depressing marriage with Elise ends with her leaving their family because she still has Stefano in mind and wants to find him. Elise is seen working at a beauty salon, clutching to an old photo of Stefano, but doesn't notice that one of her clients is him.
      Nemo: Everything works out in the end... Even badly.
  • Fake Identity Baggage: The Jean timeline ends with Nemo choosing to pretend to be Daniel Jones, a man who is being waited at an airport by a chauffeur. Apparently Daniel was involved in some scheme because Nemo gets murdered in his place while bathing in his fancy suite.
  • Flash Back: The whole movie.
  • Flash Forward: The whole movie! It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Flash Sideways: The story often jumps from one timeline/branch to another where Nemo is the same age.
    • At the start of the movie, the timelines are interacting. "The sun hurts my eyes" is said by both Elise and Jean in different timelines and Nemo notices. Also, Nemo in the Jean timeline misremembers the names of his children as those of the Elise timeline. Then Elise gets a photograph in the mail of Nemo with Jean and their children. But then old Nemo wakes up.
    • When Nemo is drowning in any timeline, the story tends to cut to other timelines in which he is also drowning.
  • Flipping the Bird: When Nemo notices that he's being filmed and shown on live TV, he angrily flips the bird to the drones filming him and closes the futuristic shutters on them.
  • Flirty Stepsiblings: Nemo and Anna. And how!
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Jean has a First Dance Marriage.
  • Framing Device: Old Nemo describing his memories, which are actually covertly framed by young Nemo's visions/imagination.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: Subverted. One of Nemo's possible parents is an Eskimo couple, but their dialogue isn't subtitled, making the lack of understanding what they're saying the joke.
  • The Future: The framing story is set in 2092.
  • Gainax Ending: There are several ways to interpret the movie's last moments.
    • Are all the possible futures just in the imagination of a nine year old boy confronted with an impossible choice?
    • Is Nemo just a very confused old man who can't explain what really happened to him, with the final moments just a Dying Dream? This leaves it unclear which is his real life and which was a fantasy.
    • Or were the Angels of Oblivion real, and Nemo is able to see/remember all the possible timelines? This would make the Big Crunch real, and since Nemo experiences it that seemingly allows all the alternate timeline Nemos to recover from all the pain in their lives by living them in reverse, which also frees all of them from having to make any choices.
  • Genre-Busting: Let's see... Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, Drama, Comedy, Tragedy, Coming of Age, Experimental Film...
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Elise goes outside and has a massive breakdown during a downpour.
  • Heads or Tails?: In the timeline where Nemo is married to Jean, he decides to leave everything and determine his life choices with a coin flip. Unsurprisingly, it eventually gets him killed.
  • Housepet Pig: In 2092 eating meat is a thing of the past and thus "stem-cell compatible pigs" are trendy pets.
  • Hypno Pendulum: A futuristic variation. Dr. Feldheim uses a flying metallic marble that moves left and right while giving Nemo hypnotherapy to help him remember.
  • Immortality Immorality: Certainly touched upon in other members of the future society.
  • Inkblot Test: At one point in the Mind Screw realm, Nemo is committed to an asylum and Dr. Feldheim asks him to give less Literal-Minded answers during this test, all while child Nemo narrates and voices them. It's a remade scene from È pericoloso sporgersi, the original 1984 short film the movie expands upon.
  • In Medias Res: The film begins with Nemo narrating about "Pigeon Superstition" before we cut to a series of snippets from the various alternate timelines until we wake up in the future with centenary Nemo as the last mortal man in a society where everyone has attained immortality. Old Nemo is asked about his experiences and this leads into the whole film.
    Nemo: Like most living creatures, the pigeon quickly associates the pressing of the level with the reward. But when a timer releases a seed automatically every 20 seconds, the pigeon wonders: "What did I do to deserve this?" If it was flapping its wings at the time, it will continue to flap, convinced that its actions have the decisive influence on what happens. We call this "pigeon superstition".
    [Cut to Nemo laying dead on a gurney]
    Nemo: What did I do to deserve this?
  • Insistent Terminology:
    Anna: He is NOT my brother!
  • I Will Wait for You: Nemo and Anna. And how. Oh man.
  • Le Film Artistique: The film pokes fun at this genre with Nemo's observation that, throughout his life, "Most of the time, nothing happened... like a French film."
  • Levitating Lotus Position: A variation. Nemo's body slowly lifts up in the air when he falls in deep slumber.
  • Lighthouse Point: A timeline sees Nemo waiting for Anna at a bench by a lighthouse near the Jacques Cartier bridge, since a raindrop botched her phone number and he was unable to call her and set up a precise date for their meeting there. Eventually she arrives.
  • Lonely at the Top: Nemo's wealthy married life with Jean after accomplishing everything his teenage self promised to her ends up feeling like this to him. Jean finds a paper on which Nemo has written a vent.
    Jean: [reading him the letter] "There comes a time in life where everything seems narrow. Choices have been made. I can only continue on. I know myself like the back of my hand. I can predict my every reaction. My life has been cast in cement with airbags and seatbelts. I've done everything to reach this point and now that I'm here, I'm fucking bored. The hardest thing is knowing whether I'm still alive."
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Au fond des bois.
  • Love Transcends Spacetime: Somehow love between Nemo and Anna still prevails.
  • Meaningful Name: Nemo is Latin for “nobody”.
  • Meet Cute: Nemo and Anna meeting on the spaceship counts as one. Alas, it doesn't last long.
    • Also, Nemo's parents. It's part of the reason he chooses to be born to them.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Nemo and Jean. Jean is a quite Flat Character who is in love with Nemo and complains that he does not care enough about her and their family after finding his vent letter.
  • Mind Screw: It certainly takes some effort to make sense of the movie's plot. Justified since a large portion of the film is in the nine-year-old Nemo's imagination.
  • Missed the Bus: The film explores different outcomes of the train station scene, depending on whether young Nemo makes the train with his mother or not.
  • Mock Hollywood Sign: When Nemo follows clues throughout the surrealist realm, he finds an instruction in the form of Mount Lee appearing in the distance with "NEMO CALL 123 581 1321" written like the Hollywood sign.
  • Mood-Swinger: Elise, due to her suffering of Borderline Personality Disorder.
  • Motifs: A few.
    • Each of Nemo's three possible love interests has a color assigned to them, as seen by their clothes from the very first time we see them, the flowers at their marriage, etc:
      • Anna is red, which stands for passion, given how she seems to be the one Nemo truly loves.
      • Elise is blue, which stands for sadness, given the tragic outcome of the timelines with her.
      • Jean is yellow, which stands for happiness and excess, but can also signify caution and cowardice, which are all reflected in Nemo's wealthy but unsatisfying marriage with her and how it ends.
    • The train tracks are shown at various times to represent the branching timelines.
    • Water, in all its forms, and the activity of swimming.
    • Poppies.
    • Chess.
    • "Mr. Sandman"
    • The leaf.
  • Multiple Endings: Nemo's life somehow has them simultaneously.
  • Mythology Gag: There's a couple of shout-outs to È Pericoloso Sporgersi, a 1984 short film by Jaco Van Dormael that this movie is essentially remaking and expanding upon, mainly the Inkblot Test scene and the giant foot coming down to crush the abandoned house where Nemo finds a message from his centenary self.
  • Nested Story: Let's see: a child Nemo remembers/envisions himself being old, telling the stories of his life to a journalist and a psychologist; among those memories is the story of him writing a story of himself going to Mars, which is shown to (maybe) happen later in his life in one of the branches.
  • No Infantile Amnesia: Exaggerated with Nemo, who remembers when he had to pick his parents and even the place he saw before being born because the Angels of Oblivion missed out wiping his memory.
  • Non Sequitur Environment: Given the dreamlike nature of the movie, it happens a few times. Like Nemo being in a place that suddenly gets flooded and he swims to the surface only to end up in the bathtub of the hotel from the Jean timeline where he gets gunned down.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Nemo claims that he isn't afraid of dying, but he's afraid he hasn't been "alive enough".
  • Not Blood Siblings: Anna and Nemo are step-siblings (and lovers) and of the three women in Nemo's lives, Anna is his soulmate.
  • Object-Tracking Shot: With a fallen leaf that ends up making Nemo's father slip and cause the Meet Cute with his mother.
  • Omniscient Hero: Nemo is a rare sympathetic example, and it is explored quite well what this means for him.
    • His omniscience is relative. He is only able to foresee larger future scenarios and is still surprised by individual events.
  • The Ophelia: Painfully deconstructed with Elise. Turns out that a mentally ill life partner is actually a lot less romantic than the books make it sound: it's exhausting, confusing, frequently terrifying, emotionally draining, and ultimately may very well end up being for nothing.
  • Potty Failure: Child Nemo wets his pants after dreaming of the future accident his father will cause by forgetting to pull the brakes of his car. He also does it as a teenager when he tells Anna's dad how he will die.
  • Proscenium Reveal: Used as a Scene Transition. The ending of the Elise timeline with her at the beauty salon becomes a stage show Child Nemo is watching in a theater.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Teenager Nemo predicts that Anna's father will die in a Surprise Car Crash while driving without noticing the crossroads and getting hit by a passing train. In the Jean timeline Nemo almost lets himself get hit by a train but moves out at the last moment to follow the result of his coin flip.
  • Reality Is Out to Lunch: When Nemo wakes up in the argyle world.
  • The Reveal: Nemo tells the journalist, "You don't exist. Neither do I. We only live in the imagination of a nine year old child [...] faced with an impossible choice". This also serves as a Rewatch Bonus regarding old Nemo's line at the beginning of the movie: "I am Mr. Nobody. The man who doesn't exist."
  • Rule of Pool: Jean has to save Nemo from drowning when he finds himself floating unconsciously face down in their pool.
  • Rule of Symbolism
  • Rule of Three: Nemo's flashbacks occur at three different ages: 9 (the train station), 15 (as a teenager), and 34 (as a working adult).
  • Scenery Porn
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: Which Nemo is the one existing right now; the old one remembering the past or the young one remembering the future?
    • Potentially both. Since Nemo did not have his memories wiped by the Angels of Oblivion, thus remembering everything, when the Big Crunch of the Universe occurs at his death and time reverses, he remembers everything that he did before the death of the Universe, explaining his hearty laugh. But again, that could still be imagined once again by his 9 year old self.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 2001: A Space Odyssey: The look of the spaceship headed to Mars and Nemo being an old man who lives in an Ascetic Aesthetic bedroom, similar to David Bowman.
    • Little Big Man: The analepsis of a centenary man being interviewed by a journalist who records the interview with a tape recorder.
    • Mughal-e-Azam: An excerpt of the film is being watched on TV by a hospital orderly and is played aboard the spaceship of teen Nemo's story as he keeps writing it while laying comatose.
    • A Zed and Two Noughts: Nemo taking photo sequences of decomposing foods and animals after Elise's death.
    • To Monty Python's Flying Circus, when the giant foot stomps on the old house.
    • High Anxiety: The passing schoolbus with an orchestra playing music inside.
    • Requiem for a Dream: Nemo and Anna laying down with their heads close the same way Harry (also played by Jared Leto) and Marion do.
    • Big Fish: Nemo being in a submerged car and looking at a fish outside the window.
    • To The Matrix.
      Nemo: Only the Architect knows.
    • Harold and Maude: Nemo as a teenager faking suicide attempts to upset his mother, who ignores him.
    • A Woman Under the Influence: Elise having a manic episode at her daughter's birthday party.
  • Sleeper Starship: During the voyage to Mars, the passengers are sleeping in individual cells.
  • Snow Means Death: Old Nemo proposes the What If? scenario of a pregnant prehistoric woman dying during a snow blizzard thus rolling off the line of humans to which he belongs.
  • Space Clothes: Worn for the voyage to Mars. In that future, everyone's hair look like they just walked out midway through a hair colouring treatment.
  • Space Elevator: Used to descend from the spaceship to the colony on Mars, and vice versa.
  • Split Timelines Plot: While there are several alternate futures shown in the movie, the initial point of divergence is which parent Nemo goes with at the train station.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Nemo and Anna at times seem to be this, as when Anna moves away, the phone number she gives to Nemo is ruined by the rain, and in one of the Elise!timelines, they die directly after they meet when the spaceship is hit by meteorites.
  • Surrealism: The world with everybody wearing argyle vests, where something like a meta version of Nemo transitions between imaginary lives.
  • Take a Third Option: The path young Nemo takes in the end. Maybe. This quickly becomes the pattern of his life - when presented with multiple choices, he refuses to take any, and somehow it works out.
  • Take My Hand!: Nemo and his mother during the Train-Station Goodbye. One time it works, the other time it doesn't.
  • Teen Pregnancy: During the casting call-styled scene of Nemo having to choose his parents, there's an awkward teenage couple that went to bed without really wanting a kid.
  • Temporal Mutability: Of the branching timelines variety, but from the past looking into possible futures.
  • Their First Time: Anna and Nemo. No planning shown, and no talking needed. So naturally, they succeed.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Nemo and Anna are sucked into the vacuum of space when the windows of the sleeper ship are shattered by asteroids, before the whole thing explodes.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Three different actors are used each for Nemo, Anna, Elise, and Jean.
  • Time Travel: Mental Time Travel & Intangible Time Travel. Young Nemo has visions of potential futures, branching out with each decision. He at the same time lives through everything and observes it, but is physically still at the train station weighing the decision.
  • Touched by Vorlons: Inverted. The Angels of Oblivion not touching Nemo on the upper lip before he was born to erase his omniscience is what allows him to see all the variables of his life choices.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Crossroads for Nemo. We see how his life plays out depending on whether he says goodbye to his father or to his mother at the train station.
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: In a timeline in which Nemo is married to Anna, he plummets his car into a river after hitting a bird with the windshield. In the alternate timeline where Nemo is Elise's widower, someone else died in the accident and was also married to Anna in Nemo's place.
  • Two-Faced: Nemo in the timeline where Elise dies in a road accident. He survives it but he gets permanent burn scars on the left side of his face.
  • Twofer Token Minority: There's a pair of interracial gay men among the couples Nemo sees when he has to choose his parents.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Nemo's dissatisfaction with the future's lack of cigarettes, edible meat, and the physical act of lovemaking, despite the end of decrepitude and death.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: While it's not difficult to grasp that Old Nemo having contradictory memories of his life makes sense since he and all the paths are in a child's imagination, the film expects the viewers to figure out by themselves the meaning of the Mind Screw place and the Gainax Ending with the Big Crunch reversing time and apparently allowing Old Nemo to continue existing after child Nemo re-emerges into the place before he was born, as if the possibility of it all being a child faced with an impossible choice imagining himself taking various paths and being an old man, or the impossible old man imagining himself as a child in a particularly trippy Dying Dream isn't confusing enough.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Science has now cured people of old age and death.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: In The Future, manual labor is apparently still needed to produce simple bicycles, and cheaper on Mars than in China. Go figure!
  • What If?: Explored:
    • Nemo's dad could have died in a sledging accident.
    • Nemo's parents could have met or not.
    • Did Nemo call Anna's friends idiots or not?
    • Did Nemo's motorcycle crash or not?
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Subverted as Nemo's father can be seen doing the weather forecast for the UK, placing the setting presumably in England, and Nemo is supposed to have moved to Montreal in the timeline where he lived with his mother. However due to the film being a joint production and having actors of multiple nationalities, there are some inconsistencies that make it confusing like Elise saying that Nemo "used to wet his pants" instead of saying trousers.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Nemo in the timeline where he loses Elise shortly after driving away from their wedding ceremony and being involved in the explosion of a tank truck in front of their car.