I’m Not There is a biographical musical film inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan, among the most quintessential figures of the music world. Among the key motifs of the film is the idea that Bob Dylan is everyone. That Bob Dylan is no one. This is best epitomized though the portrayal of the protagonist through six different actors, including women and small African American children, who all communicate different aspects of his life, personally and musically. Incidentally, after the caption at the introduction of the film, his name is not mentioned in the entire film. The film narrates the plot with non-traditional techniques, most notably the intercutting of the stories from the six different characters (who are all in their essence Dylan, even though they all sport distinct monikers.) At several distinct moments, the protagonist is placed at a crossroads, at which point he transforms and becomes a new actor, an innovative cinematographic concept, contributing to the films reputation and the overall exposure.
The film derives its title from an unreleased recording that Dylan made in 1967 from “The Basement Sessions”, “I’m Not There”. It was not until the release of this film and the accompanying soundtrack that this song was ever published. (Allmusic.com)
The soundtrack, as the film, is in its vast majority composed of recreations by other artists, sporting artistic contributions from budding artists and superstars alike, including The Million Dollar Bashers, a rock supergroup composed of Sonic Youth members Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley, keyboardist John Medeski, guitarist Smoke Hormel, and Wilco guitarist Nels Garnier. Other artists who contributed to the album include Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Calexico, Cat Power, Los Lobos, Willie Nelson, Sufjan Stevens, Mason Jennings, and The Black Keys. (Allmusic.com)
“I’m not there” was generally very well received by critics, with numerous accolades including Golden Globes and an Oscar nomination for Kate Blanchet’s performance, although the film was widely criticized for its lack of accessibility to the spectator who was not intimately familiar with the life and works of Bob Dylan. Beyond the opinions of critics, the true test is Dylan’s own opinion. Dylan was interviewed in Rolling Stone magazine by journalist Mikal Gilmore in the September issue of 2012 about his opinion of the film. He commented, “Yeah, I thought it was all right. Do you think that the director was worried that people would understand it or not? I don’t think he cared one bit. I just think he wanted to make a good movie. I thought it looked good, and those actors were incredible.” (Rollingstone.com) Regardless of the film’s critical reception and box office success, the most notable effect that the film brought about was an increased awareness to Bob Dylan as an artist and performer. After the release of the film, he enjoyed a noteworthy spike in album sales as well as royalties from the soundtrack itself, of which he was the sole composer of all 34 songs on two disks.
The film concludes with a clip of Dylan on the harmonica from a documentary, “Eat the Document” and fades out.