Dylan Movie: "I'm Not There" - Reality in Negative Space

I finally watched director Todd Hayne's I'm Not There last night. The movie, a so-called biopic on the life of Bob Dylan, is astonishing and brilliant. It follows six different actors playing six different characters - and none of them is named "Bob Dylan"...



Is Bob Dylan the young black boy ironically named "Woodie Guthrie?" Is Dylan an aging 19th Century "Billy the Kid?" Is he the effeminate [only slightly] folk-rebel-iteration played by Cate Blanchett? Like Dylan's aptly-titled song, the answer Dylan himself would offer us is "I'm not there."

None of these creations is Dylan. But when you look just slightly to the side of each persona, you might see a glimpse of the real Dylan out of the corner of your eye. Like trying to see faint stars in the night sky.

This film reminds me of Peter Rollins' discussion of "negative space" in How(not) to speak of God. I don't have it right in front of me, but I remember a discussion about how Scripture doesn't show us God: it fills the space around God - so that the space remaining in the middle is where God actually is. Looking directly at that space, we see only white margins. Not God. But when we look slightly to the side (so to speak), we see a glimpse of the shape of God - faint and fleeting - truth hiding in the paradox and impermanence of negative space.

This may be a stretch, but in some ways, I think Jesus' parables were practices in exploring negative space. Jesus didn't give easy answers. He didn't offer bullet-points to truth. He offered pictures of things that involved truth, that abided near truth or in truth, he showed us what to look at (and what to look like) to begin understanding the negative space truth abides in.

Negative space is difficult to discuss, and so it's difficult to defend. Bob Dylan was never a twelve year old black boy. He certainly wasn't Billy the Kid. But that's not the point, is it? In one scene, Blanchett's character takes the stage with several band members. Simultaneously, they all pull out machine guns and shoot into the audience. In real life, that never happened. But for those who followed Dylan's music, and saw that concert? "Yeah... it was kinda like that..."

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