I'm Not There. (2007) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Six incarnations of Bob Dylan: an actor, a folk singer, an electrified troubadour, Rimbaud, Billy the Kid, and Woody Guthrie. Put Dylan's music behind their adventures, soliloquies, interviews, marriage, and infidelity. Recreate 1960s documentaries in black and white. Put each at a crossroads, the artist becoming someone else. Jack, the son of Ramblin' Jack Elliott, finds Jesus; handsome Robbie falls in love then abandons Claire. Woody, a lad escaped from foster care, hobos the U.S. singing; Billy awakes in a valley threatened by a six-lane highway; Rimbaud talks. Jude, booed at Newport when he goes electric, fences with reporters, pundits, and fans. He won't be classified.

  • Six individuals represent the spirit of Bob Dylan in various stages of his career and personal life. A young man named Arthur is in an interrogation room, he who is providing indirect answers to unseen interrogators. Woody Guthrie is a young black youth who is riding the rails in 1959 making his way to Hollywood to become a singing sensation, until his past catches up with him. In the early 1960's, folk singing sensation Jack Rollins rebels against folk music, accusing it of becoming the establishment against which its protest songs rally. Rollins embarks on a new passion in the 1970's. Actor Robbie Clark portrays Rollins in a 1965 movie entitled "Grain of Sand", the public and critical reception to which begins to affect his marriage to his French wife, Claire. Jude Quinn, a singer in the mid 1960's, begins to outrage his folk music fans by moving away from the roots of the music which made him famous. And outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid, with who Rollins is obsessed, deals with the destruction of Riddle Township by his adversary, Sheriff Pat Garrett.

  • Ruminations on the life of Bob Dylan, where six characters embody a different aspect of the musician's life and work.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film is inspired, as the credits say "by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan". We see a POV shoot of a performer walking out on a stage at his concert to perform, then it cuts to him riding his motorcycle just before he crashes, just as Dylan did in 1966. We see the crash victim is Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), who has an autopsy performed on him.

    In 1959, a 12-year-old African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) is riding the rails as a hobo. He meets two older hobos and introduces himself as Woody Guthrie. Woody carries around a guitar labeled "This Machine Kills Fascists" as did the real Woody Guthrie. Woody is traveling across country to fulfill his dream to be a singer. Woody tells the other hobos his life story. He is once tried to perform with a circus but is made fun of and kicked out for unknown reasons (although wrestler Gorgeous George gives him a hand). Woody later meets and befriends an African American family where he stays at their home to be cared for, he also sings "Tombstone Blues" with two of the men. Woody later has dinner with the family where he is lectured by the family matriarch. She reminds him of the goings on of the world and tells Woody to, "Live your own time child, sing about your own time". Later that night Woody leaves the home and a note thanking the family for their hospitality and hops aboard a freight train. Later that night he falls asleep and is awakened by thieves who are looking for money and attempt to rob Woody, but he gets away by jumping off the train and into a river. He seems to imagine an unknown woman underwater and then seems to see himself getting eaten by a Moby Dick-like sperm whale. A white couple later finds him unconscious and take him to a hospital, with a little water in his lungs but he survives. The couple take him into their home to temporarily care for him and he performs "When the Ship Comes In" for them. However, they soon get a call from a juvenile correction center in Minnesota which Woody had escaped from. Woody then leaves the couple's home and takes a train ride (which brings us to the beginning of the story with the two other hobos). He hops off in New Jersey to visit his idol, the real Woody Guthrie who is slowly dying in a hospital. Woody bring flowers and weeps at Guthrie's beside, and is last seen playing a song for his comatose idol.

    An artist is being interrogated and identifies himself as Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), after the French poet that Dylan idolized. Arthur is based on the Dylan of 1964-1965 who tweaked the press in endless interviews. In this blank interrogation room, he evades questions, reads prose and tells people stories of his life; he is somewhat of a narrator of all six stages throughout the film.

    In a PBS-style documentary, we are shown the rapid rise of Jack Rollins (Christian Bale), a version of Dylan that focus around Dylan's folk era in the early 60's in Greenwich Village. Jack's story is told by people who knew him, especially a folk star named Alice (Julianne Moore) who is based on Joan Baez. He is also praised by many folk fans who refer to his songs as anthems and protest songs, whereas Jack himself refers to them as "finger-point songs". Jack Rollins later accepts the "Tom Paine Award" at a civil rights meeting, shortly after the JFK assassination, where a drunken Rollins insults the people in attendance and claims that he saw something in JFK's alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald which he also saw in himself; then the shocked people begin to boo Rollins out of the room. A still-outraged Rollins is seen dismissing folk and protest music in front of the press.

    In a dramatization of Jack Rollins' story called "Grain of Sand" (a reference to Dylan's 1981 haunting gospel song "Every Grain of Sand"), the folk hero is played by actor Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger). Robbie tells his life story from the first time he met Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourgh, the woman Woody imagined underwater earlier) in a Greenwich Village diner where his fascination with her is her French heritage. Claire is based on Suzie Rotolo (Dylan's girlfriend from the early 1960s), but more so on Dylan's wife Sara Lowndes. The relationship between the two becomes serious as they are seen making love for the first time in their apartment, and going for series of disasterous motorcycle rides. Robbie and Claire are later seen at the premiere of "Grain of Sand" which was disappointing to Claire and the audience. One night Robbie's marriage begins to go downhill as he has a party with his friends at his home and his wife Claire catches him with his hand between another woman's thighs. The relationship continues to deteriorate as Claire notices Robbie's misogynist attitude, insinuating that "guys and chicks are different" and "chicks could never be poets". Robbie leaves the family for a while to film a new action-thriller movie of his. During his absence Claire attempts to get a hold of Robbie on the phone but doesn't answer as he is seen coming out of the shower and seeing another woman. Claire tells Robbie she's going to leave him, although they make love on last time. Robbie comes home to bring Claire's family pictures from his house. Robbie and Claire are later seen in court when they gain 50/50 custody of their children. Robbie is last seen visiting his kids and taking them on a boat trip.

    Jude Quinn attends the Newport Folk Music Festival. Quinn comes on with a band and imagines himself and the band pulling machine guns out and mowing down the crowd. Instead, Quinn launches into the rocking "Maggie's Farm". Jude is heavily booed by the outraged fans as an unnamed Pete Seeger lookalike attempts to cut the stage power with an axe but is stopped by security guards, in reference to Seeger's claim at the time of "If I'd had an axe, I'd have cut the power". A number of folk fans are seen expressing their disappointment on Jude's new turn as a rock star from a protest singer. Jude is considered a sell-out. Jude flies over to England on tour and is seen at a press conference where he is asked questions that Dylan was asked in his famous interviews from the 60's such as how many folk singers are there and if he is trying to change the world. Later in Jude's apartment in London, England, Jude is confronted by a waiter who threatens Jude with a knife because of his departure from protesting. The man is then knocked out by Jude's lover with a bottle and is carried out of the room. Jude is next apparently using drugs with The Beatles (seen in the frantic style of Richard Lester's A Hard Days Night), but is interrupted by reporters and people asking him inane questions. He confronted by Keenan Jones (Bruce Greenwood), a journalist. Jude hallucinates his ex-lover Coco Rivington (based on Edie Sedgwick) after their apparent departure from each other. Coco is now seeing another man who is a friend of Jude's. Jude is then taken in a car by his friends and Keenan Jones as his condition from drugs begins to have an effect on him. The group then meets the famous poet Allen Ginsberg (David Cross), who hits it off immediately with Quinn. Keenan Jones later challenges Jude if he cares about people, and what he sings every night, to which Jude replies, "How can I answer that if you've got the nerve to ask me?", (similar to Dylan's Time Magazine Interview in 1965), Jude then leaves the car in disgust and walks off. Quinn is seen performing "Ballad of a Thin Man", with it's refrain of "something is happening here, but you don't what it is, do you Mr. Jones?". Keenan Jones is seen having hallucinations in keeping with the song's lyrics including a naked version of himself, a reference to the line "You see somebody naked and you say who is that man". After Jude is finished at the concert singing "Ballad of a Thin Man", several outraged fans shouts "Judas!", Jude replies "I don't believe you". As the fans run upon the stage in an apparent attempt to attack Jude, he narrowly escapes with his band. Mr. Jones gets a year book from Jude Quinn's high school years in order to reveal Quinn's true identity (the pictue shows a young Jack Rollins). Jude is back in his apartment where he sees Keenan Jones on television and reveals that he is really Aaron Jacob Edelstein and he was a middle-class, Jewish kid that never left Hibbing, Minnesota before high school. The revelation destroys Jude. Jude later has a party where he invites his friends, band and Coco Rivington. Jude and Allen Ginsberg are seen at the foot of a crucifix, "talking to Christ". Jude is seen with his buddies using drugs and getting drunk as Jude insults Coco in front of her lover stating "She has the sweetest little pussy", Coco, humiliated, runs downstairs in embarrassment. As he continues to verbally savage anyone near, Jude's condition from the night's drugs and his insomnia worsens and he vomits on his friend's lap. Jude's friends carry outside into his car and drives him to a hospital. Soon, Jude is seen passed out on the floor with his friends staring down at him. Allen Ginsberg states, "He's been in so many psyches", which this indicates that he's moved on to another life. The story then cuts back to the motorcycle wreck showing Jude laid out violently on the ground. Jude is last seen in his car addressing directly to the viewer, "Everyone knows I'm not a folk singer".

    Later, in 1974, 11 years after the civil rights award, Jack Rollins has apparently become a born again Christian and goes by "Pastor John". Rollins went to California with his girlfriend to a church for Bible studies and is later reborn and becomes a preacher. Pastor John is last seen giving testimonies to the fellow church members (as Dylan did in his concerts in the late 70's when he became a born again Christian), and sings his gospel song "Pressing On".

    Through the film, we see Billy (Richard Gere), seemingly thinking back on the other Dylans (Billy is based both on the Dylan who withdrew from the public eye in Woodstock after his motorcycle crash and the older, seldom-seen Dylan). Billy is an aged loner seemingly of the Old West who lives on the edge of a town called Riddle. Billy is first seen waking up to the barking of his dog "Henry", he takes his dog outside and ties his leash to a fence but the dog manages to run away. Billy is then forced to look for her in the woods but does not catch her. Billy then has flashbacks of his past life of the Robbie Clark persona, when his marriage failed. He looks from his stunning mountain view, but catches flashes of unrest a view valleys and catches disturbing glimpses in his mind's eye of Vietnam and other violence, but looks away. Billy later rides out to the gravel highway and runs into his friend Homer, a reference to Dylan's song from "The Basement Tapes", "Open the Door, Homer". Homer is selling some of his old belongings as Billy asks if Homer had seen his dog, which he had not seen. Homer tells Billy that Old Man Pat Garrett is destroying Riddle County, and the suicides of the depressed people as well as murders, amongst them was a young girl named Ms. Henry. Billy then goes to Riddle County to pay his respects to Ms. Henry and Mr. Montgomery for their services. As the townspeople are celebrating Halloween the funeral services are being held outdoors as a band sings "Going to Acapulco" (performed by Jim James and Calexico). After the services Pat Garrett (Bruce Greenwood) arrives and confronts the townspeople. Billy puts on a Halloween mask to disguise himself and tells Garrett to stay clear of Riddle County. Garrett asks what his names is, Billy replies "William"; Garrett then asks him to show him his face, Billy then takes off his mask and reveals himself and is recognized by Garrett (we see a flashback of when Garrett was Keenan Jones). Garrett then orders the authorities to arrest Billy. Billy is then taken to the county jail. Billy escapes from jail with Homer's help and runs to the running trains as Billy catches a ride. Homer stays behind gives his farewell to Billy. As he's on the train he sees his dog Henry chasing after him and he calls for her but doesn't catch up with the train in time, Billy tearfully says "Goodbye my Lady". On the train, Billy finds a dusty old guitar that reads "This Machine kills Fascists", the same guitar he had as Woody Guthrie. Billy then sits in the train and plays the guitar. Billy's final words are "People are always talking about freedom, and how to live a certain way. Course the more you live a certain way the less it feels like freedom. Me? I can change during the course of a day. When I wake I'm one person, when I go to sleep I know for certain I'm somebody else. I don't know who I am most of the time. It's like you got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room. There's no telling what's going to happen". The train then rides off.

    The film ends with a clip of Bob Dylan playing his harmonica from the documentary Eat the Document then the film slowly fades away.

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