Mr. Nobody (2009) spins the yarn of Nemo (Jared Leto) across the 20th and 21st centuries...
"Know thyself? A maxim as pernicious as it is ugly. Whoever observes himself arrests his own development. A caterpillar who wanted to know itself well would never become a butterfly."
- André Gide
In the year 2092, Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) is the oldest living mortal, caged away in aseptic isolation for the purpose of scientific study. On his final day (broadcast as a media spectacle) he reflects over life in the 20th Century, contemplating three possible realities, each spurring from a single childhood decision: whether or not he boards a train with his mother. So yes, it's basically Sliding Doors (Howitt, 1998) for existentialists, but nowhere near as interesting as that sounds. Van Dormael's vision is a striking if not original one (Slaughterhouse-Five is a notable reference point), and he's to be commended for his ambition, but Mr. Nobody quickly disintegrates under closer inspection, hiding a rampantly saccharine center beneath layers of faux intellectualism; the cinematic equivalent of a fondant fancy in spectacles.
Its irregular, elliptical structure does permit the film a degree of complexity, but this calculated façade fails to mask its deeper thematic shallowness, defined for me by an image of bicycles floating through space to the sound of classical music. Indeed, Van-Dormael's po-faced approach often calls his sincerity into question, and the film's 157-minute running time leaves so many metaphysical questions hanging that I began to wonder how much he really cared about them in the first place. Most plot strands also feel markedly incomplete, and the undeveloped side characters meant that I never really engaged in any of Nemo's decisions. If I don't care about the people, his flipping of a coin holds no dramatic weight or tension.
There's undoubtedly a great film to be made from the concept of Mr. Nobody, but this isn't it, and never could be with lines like "Do you remember what the world was like before telemerization? Quasi-immortality?" left in the final cut. Van Dormael can't quite decide, I think, whether he wants to lecture quantum physics or tell a timeless love story, and both ambitions become soured when the science is left tangled for the luxury of a happy ending. The film's clichéd utopia only adds to its been-there/done-that feeling, and if you thought The Fountain (Aronofsky, 2007) was tiresome, you'll probably want to give this one a wide berth.
Immaculately presented on Blu-Ray, with the crisp image and sound perfectly complementing the work of DP Christophe Beaucarne and composer Pierre van Dormael. If you're going to see the film anyway, it's definitely worth shelling out a little extra for the quality of Blu. The extras are comprised of a standard theatrical trailer and a 45-minute Making Of doc, which does give some insight into the production. It's a neat little feature, but what light it sheds won't convert anyone who found the film just too whimsical for its own good.