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Rob Edelman: Jared Leto, Pre-Oscar

Jared Leto was, for sure, the hands-down pick to win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his memorable presence in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. But what is intriguing is the state of his screen career prior to DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Before copping his Oscar, Leto had not made a film in five years and, furthermore, his previous effort was no small affair. It was an ambitious mega-budgeted sci-fi fantasy that, thematically-speaking, is reminiscent of such films as THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and CLOUD ATLAS. Its title is MR. NOBODY and its director is Jaco Van Dormael, the esteemed Belgian filmmaker.

Today, MR. NOBODY is little more than an obscure curiosity. However, after spending years playing the film festival circuit and opening in other countries, it finally earned a U.S. theatrical release this past fall and is now available on DVD.

MR. NOBODY charts the life story of a man called Nemo Nobody, who in the year 2092 is 118 years old and has the distinction of being the last person on earth who will die of natural causes. Throughout the film, we see Nemo at various stages of his life and meet a range of characters who impact that life. While different actors play Nemo as a child and teen, Leto acts the character as an adult and as a centenarian.

MR. NOBODY is well-worth seeing and pondering for a range of reasons. For one thing, it is a sprawling epic that is loaded with beautiful, almost surreal images. In this regard, seeing it is the equivalent of spending a few hours soaking in the ambience in an art museum. But there also is a provocative storyline, which involves the nature of fate and the events and moments that impact mightily on each individual life.

For example, at age nine, Nemo's parents announce that they are going to divorce. Nemo is given the choice of staying in England with his father or settling in North America with his mother. A key sequence features the child at a train station. His mother is onboard the train that is taking her away, while Nemo is on the platform and in the company of his father. As the train pulls out of the station, Nemo suddenly bolts from his father and begins chasing it. His mother, who is sitting by a window, reaches out her hand. Will he latch onto it before the train disappears? Or, will he fail and thus remain with his father? Surely, in a split-second, Nemo's fate will be defined.

Then as a teen, Nemo meets a girl who is his age and makes a dumb remark in her presence out of a combination of shyness and insecurity. Not surprisingly, the girl is turned off to him and may choose to never, ever speak to him again. But if he only could relive that moment and say the right thing... Well, who knows? This young woman just may end up being the love of his life. 

MR. NOBODY is an ambitious, challenging film about chance, fate, and ideas. It examines life's infinite possibilities. It is a film about choices made and not made, about opportunities taken and not taken, and how these decisions reverberate across the decades-- and across time. And it is well-worth seeking out not just for the presence and performance of Jared Leto.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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