Quick, what do string theory, the butterfly effect, 21st-century dystopia, the possibility of quasi-immortality, the unquantifiablity of time, the impermanence of memory, death, love, second sight, the heartache of divorce, missions to Mars, and Jared Leto’s baby blues have in common? After seeing Mr. Nobody I’m still not sure, though I am confident that writer-director Jaco van Dormael seems to think they’re all part of the same thematic continuum. Almost moving in its gonzo self-assuredness and take-no-prisoners narrative scope—although with the nearly 140-minute running time, that could just be my exhaustion talking—Mr. Nobody is as ambitious as it is incoherent, an obvious labor of love that’s equal parts science-fiction, romance, and Lynchian mind game. Yet with the film’s maddening circular structure and often thudding visual expositions, the experience of watching it isn’t quite as enjoyable as a description might augur. The central problem of Mr. Nobody isn’t really that in the end it doesn’t seem to make much sense (literal, metaphorical, or otherwise), but that, unlike in the similarly intentionally befuddling Donnie Darko, the getting there isn’t all that fun.
When not hidden behind old-man latex in the film’s ostensible wraparound story, Leto seems cast first and foremost for his beauty, considering that he often has little more to do than look soulfully awestruck into a camera often pressed so close to his face that you can count the individual hairs of stubble on his chin. In fact, this reliance on extreme close-up seems to be the main aesthetic decision of van Dormael and his cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne; the result is an incredibly claustrophobic, spatially disorienting visual experience that makes the already damn near impenetrable narrative doubly disconcerting.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Mr. Nobody.