Review: Messy & Muddled Sci-Fi Romance 'Mr. Nobody' Starring Jared Leto

by Kevin Jagernauth
September 27, 2013 3:16 PM
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We're sure when writer/director Jaco Van Dormael first came up with the premise for "Mr. Nobody," his first film since 1996's "The Eighth Day," it seemed like a fresh and original idea. Certainly we were intrigued back in 2009 by the time-spanning tale about a man who wakes up in the year 2092 to find himself 120 years old, the oldest man in the world and the last mortal in a world where nobody dies. But, unfortunately, a number of other films have come along in the interim of the long-delayed film—"The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button," "The Fountain," "Inception,""Cloud Atlas"—that have also flirted with the territory of time, memory, fate, destiny, and love. To be certain, even if those films never existed, it wouldn't make the achingly juvenile "Mr. Nobody" any better, but the fact that they do only makes the flaws in Dormael's film stand out even more.

It's hard to know where to begin addressing the myriad problems with "Mr. Nobody," but the setting seems like a good place to start considering that, ultimately, it has absolutely no bearing on the story. In short, there is no reason for this film to take place in 2092. Aside from allowing Dormael to play around with CGI and create a futuristic vision that seems lifted (with a smaller budget) straight from "The Fifth Element," there is actually no plot-driven basis for the film to be set in 2092 other than to give Nemo/Mr. Nobody (Jared Leto) a place to die and tell his story. In fact, the film doesn't even reveal why people are suddenly blessed with immortality, why Nemo is excluded from being able to take part in this wonderful scientific breakthrough, or how he's been able to live so long. This is just the first of many major story situations where Dormael takes the audience's trust for granted.

But, onwards, the story finally begins—after a muddled opening twenty minutes—when a reporter breaks into the hospital room where Nemo is staying in the future and asks him to talk about his life for posterity. Again, no reason is given why Nemo is being kept away from reporters other than it appears that he's having trouble with his memory. As he recounts his story (which basically puts the rest of the film into a flashback), three separate versions of Nemo's life emerge. Like the last season of "Lost," which dealt in parallel timelines, the same applies here, only Nemo's memory is also remembering those of his parallel lives; those started and lived by another version of himself, had he made or not made certain decisions at key points in his life. Again, the internal logic is never elaborated, just presented for the audience to accept, but without a structural basis to make it stick. There is no explanation why Nemo can do this and why no one else can, it just is.

Nemo's life appears to have been marked by two things: his parents' (Rhys Ifans and Natasha Little) divorce and being the object of affection of girls in his elementary school days. CUE BUTTERFLY EFFECT. For (again) unexplored reasons, this is the turning point of his life and his parallel lives seem to diverge from here as we get plot threads for what would happen if he had chosen each girl. The rest of the film recounts these relationships in what is supposed be something dramatic and romantic (we suppose), but each life is so pathetic, so bereft of joy and riddled with discord, it's no small wonder that Nemo didn't just off himself.

The first relationship with Jean (Linh-Dan Pham) is so briefly touched upon that it's hardly worth addressing, but in this version of his life, he is extremely wealthy and unhappy because he keeps confusing dreams and memories from his other parallel lives and he thinks he is not leading the life he should. Next is Anna (Juno Temple as the younger version, Diane Kruger as the older). In this alternate reality, following his parent's divorce, he goes to live with his mother who soon takes up with another man who has a daughter Nemo's age. They fall in love, leading to an illicit affair behind their parent's back, but are tragically ripped apart when things don't work out between the adults. They run into each other later in life, even make plans to get together, but Nemo loses adult Anna's number when a random event from halfway around the world causes a rainstorm to start where he is and a single raindrop falls and smudges the ink on the phone number he's holding. No, we're not kidding. Finally, there's Elise (Sarah Polley), a nearly suicidal depressive who is bedridden and crying when she's not berating Nemo or scaring the bejeesus out of their kids with her wildly unpredictable behavior.

In setting up these ridiculous, overblown and tragic lives for Nemo, Dormael seems to have forgotten writing in the redemption he was looking for. The question of which one is real and which isn't doesn't really matter, but you also don't want to find out because what Nemo goes through in one lifetime we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy. Not only is Nemo the last mortal on Earth, he also seems to be the unluckiest person who ever lived, earning three sad sack alternate realities. We're not even going to get into the storyline that has Nemo's father turn into a cripple after his divorce, unable to wash or feed himself, or the ridiculous tangent about angels.

It also doesn't help Dormael's film that his female characters are either slavishly and blandly loyal (Jean), unattainable sexpots (Anna) or depressive and shrill (Elise). It seems the worst thing Nemo did in his life was have terrible taste in women. These are not so much characters that interact with Nemo as obstacles he has to overcome. Even though Polley is listed as the co-star, she's in the film for maybe twenty minutes at most, most of which she is deep in the throes of a depression. Temple does the best she can with a role that requires her to do little more than act like a horny teenager while Pham seems to be mostly cut out of the film (indeed, there is a strong sense that a lot has been excised from the movie).

While this writer is not fond of walking out on movies, and didn't with "Mr. Nobody," the warning signs were there. And they arrived loud and clear when Nemo gave the first of four lectures on physics and string theory directly to the camera during the Anna storyline (it appears he's some kind of science show TV host, but again, that's left unexplained as well). We had to stifle our laughter, but when Leto started in on the possibilities of time and space, we were ready to bolt and in retrospect, we really should have. "Mr. Nobody" simply fails to reward your patience and engage your intellect, despite straining very hard to do so. Both overblown and half-baked, too long and not edited enough, "Mr. Nobody" describes exactly the kind of audience it will likely get. [D]

"Mr. Nobody" is now available on VOD and opens in limited release on November 7th. This is an edited reprint of our review from the Canadian release of the film in 2010.

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  • MEGAN | April 19, 2014 10:04 PMReply

    "There is no explanation why Nemo can do this and why no one else can, it just is." I stopped reading this review on paragraph three for that idiotic comment, just as the reviewer probably stopped watching after the beginning bit about Pigeon Superstitution. Twenty minutes into the film it explains why he can do this, the Angels of Oblivion did not wipe his memory so he knows everything.
    Don't take pieces of a film you've seen and try to discredit the whole movie. Watch the movie with your full attention and your "myriad of problems" will seize to exsist.

  • Spric92 | April 13, 2014 12:25 PMReply

    the people here are too embarrassing. this reviewer is beyond dumb.
    all of the 'issues' present in this review were explained during the course of the movie, provided one had the intellect and mental capacity to understand it - and many did; there were just the select few, ie, the idiot that wrote this, that failed to. the reviewer's complaints are as moronic and unstable as he claims the movie to be (though it isn't) - he at one point claims it to be too bland, and then mere sentences later proclaims it too over the top.
    what an imbecile.
    everything else was a literal direct attack on the movie and its viewers. as the post below me said; this was indeed shameful stuff.
    I didn't use this site in the first place, but if I had, I sure wouldn't now.

  • Rehjul | April 13, 2014 12:15 PMReply

    What a pretentious, obnoxious reviewer - as are many of his followers, which isn't very surprising.
    If these people took a moment to pull their heads out of their asses, perhaps they might be able to appreciate the movie.
    It's kind of... Well, it's really sad, when a person is so desperate to not understand or like a movie; many of the statements provided here only go to show the reviewer's lack of an understanding. The fact that this would be published as an actual review is enough for me to no longer browse this site. Shameful stuff.

  • Tyler | April 12, 2014 12:13 AMReply

    Holy shit, you moron. The year 2092 is relevant because thats when the big crunch happens, it is the end of time as we know it. Nemo is still mortal because in that particular squence of possibilities (read; imagination) he has remained in a coma due to his scooter accident. Because the angels of oblivion forgot to erase nemo's memory, he has eternal consciousness and can move forward or backward through space and time in his imagination. If you didn't understand the movie why did you even bother to write such a piece of shit review

  • Bc | April 6, 2014 7:43 AMReply

    Not that I think the movie was thaaat great... But didn't the reporter in the hospital talk about some sort of endless cell regeneration resulting in living forever....? And a few other things you said the movie didn't even explain when they clearly did.. How can you review a movie you clearly didn't even pay attention to?

  • Bob the Builder | February 27, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    This review makes some good points about the movie's flaws, but the writing is way too confrontational and dismissive. The reviewer does an amazing job belittling anyone who even remotely enjoyed any aspect of the film.

    I personally enjoyed the film greatly. It dramatizes some extremely complex ideas about time, choice, free will, love, and fate, and it left me with a sense of wonder for the ethereal qualities of life.

    Also, the so-called "ridiculous tangent about angels" is the key to understanding this movie.

  • denise | November 30, 2013 11:29 PMReply

    I agree that releasing the somewhat similar films you named
    Before Mr.Nobody did not help it. However, I thought the film was at
    Least as cohesive as Cloud Atlas. And let's be brutally honest is any
    Crtitic ever gonna give Jared Leto an honest review. You guys can't stand him when he succeeds as a musician and you slam him when he acts. Funny how many noted directors thankfully ignore you and we
    Still get to see Jared do both, Aronofsky, Oliver Stone, you know the list.

  • Enjoys mr.mike | October 28, 2013 12:01 AMReply

    Be honest now mike, you're secretly the writer of this terribly offput narrow minded review.

    The movie was a quite brilliant perplexing story about life and choices. If you were too stupid to see that, you should probably stop watching movies like this and stick to watching the latest superhero or cliche romantic comedies like I kbow you do.

    Also you comment on peoples comments and say they have no right to a view on this movie, or their own opinion, what makes you so grand that you can make your own opi.... oh waot, you didn't make your own opinion, you just copied the reviewer. I'd probably take the masses opinion over yours.

  • jesuslovesarabcock | February 10, 2014 8:50 AM

    This movie was an utter mess with a pretentious tone,convoluted plot,mediocre acting,irritating score....I could go on. Just because someone truthfully called out your favourite movie for the rubbish it is doesn't make that person narrow minded

  • MIKE | October 25, 2013 10:33 PMReply

    Great review, Kevin !

    I had the same impulse to walk out, for the same reasons. Your criticisms of this juvenile mess of a film are well thought out, and articulated - unlike those of your detractors below.

    I suppose a sophomoric movie draws likewise sophomoric minded fans...

  • SARA | October 28, 2013 10:11 PM

    You are a complete moron.

  • Melissa | October 21, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    What an idiotic review. He has clearly missed the entire point of the film. Mr.Nobody is a beautiful film about life, philosophy and the concept of fate, time and space. I love this movie and in my opinion it surpasses many films within a similar genre including Inception or Cloud Atlas. There is nothing like it and even after re-watching it more than 20 times there is always something new and intriguing about this film.

  • allahisgreat | February 10, 2014 8:42 AM

    hey melissa....u insufferable prostitute,everyone has the right to his/her opinion...and this movie was utter rubbish...that's a fact...the truth hurts,doesn't it?.....

  • MIKE | October 25, 2013 10:06 PM

    Get a life. A real one.

  • Jesse | October 20, 2013 6:04 PMReply

    "And they arrived loud and clear when Nemo gave the first of four lectures on physics and string theory directly to the camera during the Anna storyline (it appears he's some kind of science show TV host, but again, that's left unexplained as well)."

    Hmmm. Were the scenes where the camera crew is evident or when the director calls it a day not enough to point to the fact that he is indeed working on some sort of science television show? Do you need some sort of dialogue like "Honey, I am going to my job working on the science show for the Discovery Channel where I explain various scientific theories. I should be back when i'm done."

  • Tom | October 20, 2013 11:17 AMReply

    Just because you don't understand the movie, doesn't indicate that it's a bad movie. It means you are unintelligent.

  • praisemuhammad | February 10, 2014 8:44 AM

    Since when did movies become synonymous with intelligence? If you were really intelligent,you would be reading science journals instead of watching rubbish movies like this one

  • MIKE | October 25, 2013 10:12 PM

    Yes - everyone that has ANY criticism of this pretentious, sophomoric movie didn't "understand it".

    Grow up.

  • Ben | October 3, 2013 10:41 AMReply

    A review as childish as what I'm about to say. Don't trust a guy named Kevin when it comes to movies.

  • jingmei | September 29, 2013 1:13 AMReply

    This film was made many years ago.

  • Kris | September 28, 2013 6:56 PMReply

    Mr Nobody is one of the best films ever made, and this review is certainly THE worst film review I ever read. This review is truly a disgrace for moviegoers. Misleading, unfair, and simply non-sensical text.

    I suggest the Mr. Jagernauth continues his carreer doing some brainless activities, for he just engaged in a nice sample of crappy writing. Perhaps the boulevard press awaits you?

  • muhammadsodomisedjesus | February 10, 2014 8:47 AM

    This review was absolutely spot on.The movie was a disgrace to cinema .It would serve you better if you realised the truth about this rubbish movie instead of masturbating to jerkhead leto

  • MIKE | October 25, 2013 10:13 PM

    It certainly awaits you...

  • StrictP | September 28, 2013 1:52 PMReply

    What an unhelpful review. Loved this movie and have passed it along to many other people who have loved it as well. A very touching and thoughtful story about choices.

  • DERP | September 28, 2013 12:07 PMReply

    LOL! A stupid reviewer here. The reviewer OBVIOUSLY didn't get what the movie meant. You need to watch it really hard and more than 1 time only to get the meaning. There's a LOT of clues and reference from the previous scene in this movie. Use your brain.

  • jesuslikesitintheass | February 10, 2014 8:54 AM

    You are the only idiot here. The reviewer did a great job in calling out this utter excrement of a movie for what it truly is.Insecure nerds like you claim to like such movies due to a desperate need to prove yourselves "unconventional"

  • MIKE | October 25, 2013 10:17 PM

    Your screen name is certainly appropriate.

    ... and just a tip - your comments, as useless as they are, would none the less carry bit more weight if you didn't start them off with "LOL".


  • A Reader | September 28, 2013 10:08 AMReply

    Really unfair review of a beautiful movie. It wasn't perfect, but definitely worth seeing. Your mocking tone is evidence that you really didn't even get it.

  • Jay Cormier | September 28, 2013 5:10 AMReply

    I couldn't disagree more and found this movie to be my favourite movie I saw at TIFF the year it played there. It's a romantic puzzler of a movie that is full of so many fun and interesting ideas, it seems like the reviewer here just couldn't get into it. It's too bad. I've since bought it on Blu-Ray and have watched it numerous times, each time coming away with something new. This is honestly one of my favourite movies. To each his own!

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