If any man should be more than the sum of his parts, it's an artist. But Todd Haynes' I'm Not There makes Bob Dylan less than the sum of his parts. It's like a tony art-school parlor game. Haynes, who directed and co-wrote (with Oren Moverman) this multipart biographical essay on Dylan, must have spent too much time wondering, "If I were a multifaceted, forward-moving, self-created singer-songwriter poet like Dylan, who would I get to play me?"
What he arrives at is not one but a half-dozen performers who represent different phases of Dylan's life. Marcus Carl Franklin plays an 11-year-old black boy named Woody, who, like the young Dylan, sings the Woody Guthrie songbook and tries on the Dust Bowl bard's identity. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, both a seerlike Greenwich Village folk singer, the "voice of his generation," and later, under the name "Pastor John," a Christian evangelical preacher. Heath Ledger plays Robbie, an actor who stars as Jack Rollins in a counterculture movie and becomes a tortured idol of '60s youth. Cate Blanchett does a male impersonation as Jude, who represents the Dylan who went electric and scandalized his old folkie fans as he appeared hell- or heaven-bent on shedding old identities. Ben Whishaw pops up now and then as the cryptic "Arthur," as in "Arthur Rimbaud," the poet who was one of Dylan's early inspirations (he also narrates the movie). And Richard Gere ambles through as Billy the Kid, representing Dylan's love for outlaws, mid-career immersion in country music and star turn in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
I'm Not There (The Weinstein Co.) Starring Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw. Rated R. Time 138 minutes.