Some movies are simply too strange to put into theaters. That seemed to be the fate of “Mr. Nobody,” a trippy, existential sci-fi romance that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival — in 2009.
But with Jared Leto‘s turn in “The Dallas Buyers Club” earning Oscar buzz, and Sarah Polley and Juno Temple seeing their profiles rise, this Euro-Canadian production finds itself on North American screens, as ethereal, quirky and inscrutable as ever.
Framed within the flashbacks of “the last mortal on Earth,” 118-year-old man Nemo Nobody (Leto) interviewed by both his future (2092) shrink (Allan Corduner) and a journalist (Daniel Mays), it’s about love and life and entropy and decay and the fateful choices you make and what you might could if you could choose again.
“If you never make a choice, anything is possible,” Nemo Nobody says. And he’s right.
If he doesn’t choose to pursue the wounded Elise at 15, he’d never struggle to contain her manic depression as the mother (Sarah Polley) of his three children.
If Nemo isn’t smitten by tiny Anna, then teen Anna (Juno Temple) wouldn’t be so darned alluring that he can’t resist her, even though her dad has taken up with Nemo’s mother (Natasha Little). And Nemo and adult Anna (Diane Kruger) wouldn’t take up things as adults — maybe take off to colonize Mars.
Or maybe he didn’t dash to that train and decide to live with his mother, at 9, when she ran off and left his dad (Rhys Ifans) alone. Maybe Nemo grows up to care for his father, who becomes an invalid shortly after cheating mom flees.
Love might take a back seat and see him settle for the sensible Jean (Linh Dan Pham). But he’d still wonder what might have been.
Nemo seems to meet his end — dying of old age, murdered in a bathtub, drowning in a car wreck. But he doesn’t.
It’s all somewhat confusing and utterly absorbing. Is everything a dream within a dream? Surely the name “Nemo,” as in “Nemo in Slumberland,” isn’t a coincidence.
The always amazing Polley, playing manic depression in all its extremes, has the most to work with, here. Leto’s Nemo has all manner of future possibilities — TV science show host, rich businessman, homeless guy, all manner of hopeless romantics. None of them really stick with you the way Polley’s Elise does.
Writer-director Jaco Van Dormael (“Toto the Hero”) spins flashbacks and time-lapse photography, stunning montages, whirling, circling cameras and stunning underwater, deep space and Martian landscape photography into a film that is as intentionally opaque as it is overlong.
“Mr. Nobody” takes a good 70 minutes to get to the point where you guess where it’s going. And that’s only the halfway mark.
But it is fascinating to chew on and mull over, a cryptic “puzzle picture” set in the playground of the psyche, a movie about the present, the past and the future and the wonder of how any of us is strong enough to make a choice, a decision, about anything.
Cast: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Juno Temple, Rhys Ifans
Written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 2:20
MPAA rating: R for some sexuality/nudity, brief strong language and violent images