Challenge Week 8: Mr. Nobody

So far in this challenge I’ve been assigned films that I loved, that delighted me, that I thought were okay, that surprised me, and that impressed me. This was the first one that blew me away. On Facebook I’ve been asking people involved in the challenge to guess which of the week’s films I’ll like better (upcoming: Capricorn One, which I have not watched yet). Derek, who assigned this week’s films, said I’d like Mr. Nobody better “because it is more directly in your wheelhouse.” Boy, is it ever.


Mr. Nobody is the last mortal in the world at 112 – everyone else is now immortal thanks to a process that endlessly renews their cells. No one knows who he is, where he came from, and his memories are unclear and confused. But that’s not stopping a curious journalist from sneaking in to try to get his story. That’s what we get in flashbacks, alongside “current” sections with Mr. Nobody and the journalist. But hold on, Mr. Nobody seems to be recalling two or three different lives, branching narratives based on a choice he may or may not have made at age 8.

As soon as we got to this point, I was utterly hooked, because I am completely fascinated by the concept of multiverses, that is, that every choice actually creates a new universe – that each possibility is a reality in some parallel universe. I don’t necessarily really believe in such thing, but I have yet to experience a fictional narrative involving multiverses that I didn’t love.


Like many of my favorite cerebral sci-fi stories, though, this one is ironically less about intellect and more about emotion. The future world is without love or sex because endless cellular renewal eschews the need for reproduction. When asked about life before that, Mr. Nobody asserts “we screwed! Everybody was always screwing,” before wistfully continuing “We fell in love. We fell in love.” In his story we see three parallel paths, three potential loves for him, three marriages he may or may not have had. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because if you haven’t seen this, you deserve to discover its pleasures yourself – suffice it to say that stories like this run a very real risk of setting up scenarios they can’t resolve, and Mr. Nobody resolved in a way that I not only found satisfying, but very nearly transcendent.

The two films it reminded me most of are The Fountain and Cloud Atlas, and from a quick bit of reading last night, it seems like Mr. Nobody is probably just as polarizing as those two films. Whatever, it worked like gangbusters for me. It is philosophically and metaphysically packed, and the narrative is complicated and layered in all the right ways, but the emotional resonance is really what pushes it over the edge. Jared Leto is great and charismatic no matter which version of Nemo he’s playing (and the makeup work for the ancient Mr. Nobody is amazing), and the kids that play the character at ages 8 and 15 are excellent. I had no idea Sarah Polley or Diane Kruger were in this, and enjoyed seeing them both (though Polley has the more difficult and heartbreaking role, Kruger handles the role of Nemo’s emotional anchor wonderfully).


The film is also beautiful – for some reason I had it in my head that it was a kind of low budget, sparse narrative, and it’s the exact opposite – it’s lush and gorgeous with deeply saturated colors from start to finish. I started the film at 9:30pm, expecting to watch half and finish the next evening. The next thing I knew it was 12:30 (it’s not 3 hours long – I pause a good bit during these to mark down my favorite lines of dialogue and stuff like that), and I hadn’t even gotten sleepy as I do 90% of the time watching movies after 10pm these days. I don’t know anything else from writer/director Jaco van Dormael, but I’m certainly interested now. Well done, Derek. Well done.

Stats and stuff…

2009, Belgium/Germany/Canada/France
written and directed by Jaco van Dormael
starring Jared Leto, Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley, Rhys Ifans, Juno Temple

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Mr. Nobody entered my chart:

Mr. Nobody beats Outrage
Mr. Nobody beats Look at Me
Mr. Nobody beats Safety Last
Mr. Nobody beats Certified Copy
Mr. Nobody loses to Captain Blood
Mr. Nobody loses to The Killing
Mr. Nobody beats The Spirit of the Beehive
Mr. Nobody beats The Harvey Girls
Mr. Nobody loses to Le samourai
Mr. Nobody loses to The Muppet Christmas Carol
Mr. Nobody loses to The Fifth Element

Final ranking #182 out of 3594 films on my chart (95th percentile)

It is now my #2 Jared Leto film, my #1 Sarah Polley film, my #2 Diane Kruger film, my #11 Mindbender film, and my #2 film of 2009.

Mr. Nobody was recommended by Derek Armstrong, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook.

A few quotes…

Young Nemo: Why do we remember the past, but not the future?

Journalist: What was it like when humans were mortal?
Mr. Nobody: We had cars that polluted, we smoke cigarettes, we ate meat, we did everything we can’t do in this dump and it was wonderful. Most of the time nothing happened. Like a French movie.
Journalist: What about…sexually? Before sex became obsolete?
Mr. Nobody: We screwed. Everybody was always screwing. We fell in love. We fell in love.

Mr. Nobody: You have to make the right choice. As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible.

Teenage Nemo’s Mom: He’s got a gift for making people uncomfortable.

Teenage Nemo: [to Anna] I don’t go swimming with idiots.

Teenage Nemo: Sometimes I can see the future.
Teenage Anna: Doesn’t seem like it’d be much fun knowing what’s going to happen.

Guy on Mars ship: It doesn’t look like there’s much to do [on Mars]. I hope I brought enough Sudoku.

Anna: This is what I’ve been waiting for – renouncing all possible lives, for one life with you.

Mr. Nobody: Each of these lives is the right one. Every path is the right path. Everything could’ve been anything else and it would have just as much meaning.

8-year-old Nemo: In chess, it’s call zugzwang, when the only viable move is not to move.

Mr. Nobody: This is the most beautiful day of my life. Anna.

A few more screenshots…



















Challenge Week 7: Come and Get It


Challenge Week 8: Capricorn One


  1. Derek Armstrong

    So gratifying to read all this of course. Really glad it had such a profound effect on you. It’s been two years since I’ve seen it so forgive me if I’m a little hazy on the details, but I remembered also really digging all the science program instructional video stuff Leto’s character did as one of his jobs. Interesting side note: If you watch Sarah Polley’s great documentary Stories We Tell, her cavewoman scenes have a brief appearance there, since this was the movie she was working on during the timeline of that story. When I saw Stories We Tell I thought “What the hell is THAT movie she’s making, where she’s a neanderthal?” I got my answer about six months later when I saw this. Yes, Mr. Nobody has everything from future immortal humans to neanderthals … and just about everything in between. Ordinarily a repetition of the word “everything” twice in close proximity in the same sentence is something I would try to avoid, but Mr. Nobody is an everything type movie, isn’t it?

    • There were too many parts I really dug to mention them all. The science programs sections WERE great. I also loved the story-within-the-story of the trip to Mars and how it kind of “belonged” to multiple layers of the narrative.

      I still need to see Stories We Tell. Badly.

      I’ve described Cloud Atlas as an everything movie, too. “What is that movie about,” people ask. “Everything. It’s about everything.” The Tree of Life is like this, too, actually. Love it.

  2. Kurt

    Juno Temple and Diane Kruger! I love this movie. Wrote about it here:

    And it was a Movie Club Podcast contentious pick here:

    • I just looked back through your and Andrew’s reviews/posts, which are excellent. I tried to read the comments, but reading other people pooh-poohing my transcendent experiences is no longer my bag. I don’t think I could make it through the podcast.

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