Bob Dylan’s not here but his fractured ghost haunts this film…though his songs walk by themselves. Todd Haynes chooses to represent Dylan in six phases of his life using six different actors. The film begins with a young Dylan jumping a boxcar and the story’s train of thought decouples from the narrative locomotion, utilizing a Fellini-like dream structure that is both confusing and intellectually provoking. There is no controlling plot device to advance the tale, only time-warp vignettes of Dylan in varying aspects of his career and life.
But I believe this film is about more than Bob Dylan: it’s concerned with examining the Cult Of Personality and the creative experience itself. When do we separate the artist from the art? Once a song is written and shared it becomes a part of the listener, it changes. WILCO sings about this very concern:
“And if the whole world’s singing your songs, And all of your paintings have been hung, Just remember what was yours is everyone’s from now on, And that’s not wrong or right, But you can struggle with it all you like, You'll only get uptight.”
Dylan gets uptight, pretentious, self-destructive, and begins to despise the people who once worshiped his songs, who looked to this dirty prophet for guidance but now find only idiot wind. He begins to lose his freedom and fears becoming bound to the listener…the very antithesis of the creative process!
Haynes uses different film stock and color schemes to reflect Dylan’s emotional metamorphosis. He also employs sudden jump cuts to keep the viewer vertiginous, conflicted, and confounded in order to empathize with the character(s); we begin to feel what he’s feeling. If you want a documentary on Bob Dylan…rent another film. This is an intellectual vivisection of an icon and the very audience that adores him. Does it matter what we think of the living breathing person Bob Dylan? His songs now belong to us.
Final Grade: (A)