Why I Don’t Like ‘I’m Not There’

My friend begged me not to write or post this article.

The inspiration for this.

One of my closest friends recently wrote an essay analyzing ‘I’m Not There’. If you are not familiar with the production, it’s an abstract film about the life and character of Bob Dylan. Basically, the musician is presented as six different people and you learn something new about him through each of those personas. My friend loves ‘I’m Not There’ and was inspired to write his essay. Since he’s one of my closest people and since our opinions about cinema usually intertwine, I was intrigued to read what he had written. Out of pure curiosity. I also felt a necessity to watch ‘I’m Not There’ since my friend enjoyed it so much. Thus, I would be able to understand and appreciate his essay more.

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Pretentious cinema.

There’s a trend going on in Hollywood currently that I absolutely loathe. For a lack of better word, I’ll call it ‘pretentious cinema’. In my opinion, literally every single one of Denis Villeneuve’s films falls into that category. ‘Enemy’, in my eyes, is the literal definition of a ‘pretentious movie’. I hate such productions and usually avoid watching them. When talking about ‘I’m Not There’, my friend was most worried that I would classify the film exactly as ‘pretentious’. Is it? To be quite honest, no. But I still very much disliked it.

What is good about ‘I’m Not There’?

‘I’m Not There’ is genius in many ways. Its mere originality is mind-bending, but I’ll get more into that later. What struck me the most with ‘I’m Not There’ is how well it uses metaphors and images as its main source of explanation. The visualization of such literary techniques in the productions is brilliant and serves perfectly to its general purpose. When it comes to themes and motifs, ‘I’m Not There’ nails it out of the park. The philosophical concepts it presents and develops are original, thought-provoking, and easy to perceive. And, after all, the core of ‘I’m Not There’ is Bob Dylan and with that the movie does no wrong. It truly manages to perfectly capture the life and character of the iconic musician.

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The main problem with this film.

None of the said above matters. In simple terms, ‘I’m Not There’ isn’t really a… movie. This particular flick differs from every other production in that that it tells a story. And it does that brilliantly. However, in its successful attempt to tell an amazing story, it fails to… be one. ‘I’m Not There’ is not a story. And films are supposed to both tell a story and be one. Why isn’t it one? Because it’s completely and undeniably without structure.

Many who see this production for the first time might call it ‘random’. This is where I would disagree and defend ‘I’m Not There’. Everything that has been done with this movie, from the order of the scenes to the editing, has been done with a clear purpose in mind: to tell the story of Bob Dylan. And I must say that the film is successful in achieving its purpose, it truly does present the character in a great way, develops him, and you get familiar with the main protagonist of ‘I’m Not There’ like you have never done before with another feature film.

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That’s exactly why I would not call this production ‘pretentious’. It doesn’t pretend to be better than it truly is, it doesn’t pretend to present a better story than it truly does, no, quite the opposite, it does and achieves exactly what it aims towards. Do I, personally, like that? Absolutely no. For two reasons. One, I’ve already mentioned above that this isn’t a movie, at least in my eyes, and I can’t perceive it in a positive way because of that. And two, because all of this could have been done another way. I understand ‘I’m Not There’s strives towards originality with its ‘unorthodox’ narrative, but I think that is neither appropriate, nor successful.

Why am I mad?

There are many flicks out there that focus solely on main protagonists. I’ve done some character analysis articles where I talk about exactly that. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, for example, focuses solely on Jordan Belfort and makes so that an interesting and coherent narrative follows around the character. Another great example is the recent TV show ‘Legion’. And it’s not only those two, there are numerous other examples of films that built up a fascinating narrative to resolve around the main character, but make so that that character is the primary focus of the movie.

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I’m mad because ‘I’m Not There’ could have done exactly that. What it did is not necessary; it’s not the only way to present the character of Bob Dylan. The movie could have had a coherent plot that’s interesting to everyone and that actually creates a story and still focus on and analyze Bob Dylan. It could have done it, but it chose to go another way. A decision that, in my opinion, took out a lot of the movie and made it truly unwatchable to many.

(Also, I just have to mention that if you are not a huge Bob Dylan fan you understand even less that usually. I know nothing about the musician’s life and I was utterly and completely confused throughout ‘I’m Not There’. That makes the production even more unwatchable than before.)

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One hour and thirty minutes into ‘I’m not There’ and I texted my friend saying that I could finish the movie and that I hated it. He begged me to not write an article about the film since I hadn’t finished it and since ‘the last thirty minutes are the most emotional’. I thought about that. And as you can clearly see, I wrote something. Why? Because those last thirty minutes weren’t going to change my mind about the structure of the movie and its potential to be better. It doesn’t matter if the last thirty minutes are the best because I’m not denying the productions’ clear ability to emotionally impact the viewer, it is, indeed, a fine movie when it comes to that, but it fails in many other areas. More important areas. Areas that don’t allow it to be called a ‘film’.

My friend said that ‘I’m Not There’ gets so much better with the second viewing and that I shouldn’t talk about it since I can’t form an educated opinion based on one viewing. He said that the film truly leaves a mark on you after the second or third viewing. That’s where he’s got it wrong. ‘I’m Not There’ impacted me on the first viewing, its themes, ideas, and characters are truly amazing and, indeed, ‘impactful’.

It was said to me that ‘I’m Not There’ is more of an ‘experience’ than a ‘movie’ and I have to say that I agree completely. The film is like one of those bad things that happen to you in life. A bad thing that teaches you a lesson. And even though you are grateful for the lesson, you would never want to relive that event. It’s exactly like that with ‘I’m Not There’. The film impacted me, but I would never ever do it do myself to watch it again.

In my eyes, ‘I’m Not There’ is the movie equivalent of a bad life experience.


Do you agree with this article? Have you seen ‘I’m Not There’? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, please! Don’t forget to also LIKE and SHARE this article if you enjoyed it.

Thanks for reading,

Mickey Angelov