Mr. Nobody Untangled, Decrypted, and Explained

Mr. Nobody is a profound discussion about familial rifts and the chaos inflicted, from the perspective of a nine year old.
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I’ve watched this movie three times in the past month. So I’m up to five watches right now? And when you run a website that talks about new movies, and people are constantly asking, we talk about more and more movies… let me put it to you this way. This one movie, log jammed, THiNC. entirely. Completely. So thanks for that Joseph D Klemm! hahah. Now, if you know anything about THiNC…and I’m doubting you do. We are an up and coming website that discusses movies that make people think. We dissect them. Tease them apart. Try and put them back together again. So to learn that Mr. Nobody tree-shredded my site? Basically means the movie literally (BY DEFINITION) has to be amazing. Has to be. Ok, so let’s do this: Mr. Nobody Untangled, Decrypted, and Explained…

If you’ve never heard of the movie, it actually was quite big when it released, but it was so difficult to understand, and so convoluted(?) that it really back-burnered quickly, and ultimately bombed at the box. But with stars Jared Leto (playing Nemo, who you know from like a million movies I’m sure), Sarah Polley (playing Elise, who you might know from Dawn of the Dead), and Diane Kruger (playing Anna, who was huge in Inglorious Basterds, National Treasure, etc.), you know the movie is going to be well acted anyway. But it is the movie’s structure, or apparent lack thereof, that really throws the clutch on this cinematic technicolor. It’s one hot steaming jumble of splices, reverses, cut-backs, all with alternative realities, possibilities, switches and unhindgings. It’s a really confusing two hours and twenty one minutes.

This post is going to be so filled with spoilers – and it will be so complicated – that if you haven’t watched Mr. Nobody recently, I highly recommend you watch it… or watch it again. Regardless, don’t continue on without having watched it already.

But I think Mr. Nobody actually explains itself quite nicely. We know why we are a jumbled mess. We get told explicitly what the film is up to. So that is good. We don’t have to guess there. But we really aren’t cut any slack when it comes to piecing the movie back together again. And that is where my head exploded over the past month as I tried and tried to identify every eventuality, and solve the complete puzzle from start to finish of the movie that is Mr. Nobody.

Alright, let’s be honest here, if you haven’t seen the movie and you read this…it’s not going to really spoil anything. Why? Because you’ll be so lost with my retelling of it that it won’t even matter. But, if you want to experience these sequences as Jaco Van Dormael originally intended? You should watch the movie, then come back, and check out this walkthrough. OK? Because you are going to need the help in understanding what it is that you just watched. I promise.

THiNC. Mr. Nobody Timelines

So, in order to keep track of the various intricate timelines of the movie Mr. Nobody, I found myself outlining each fragments into a cohesive whole. Each scene, sort of needed a home, a logical order within Nemo’s life to lock into place. You might find it helpful to open up the larger version I am including here by clicking the image, and following the paths as we discuss the ins and outs of what happened throughout Mr. Nobody. You should notice right away, that most of the movie takes place within the Nemo/Father thread, not with his mother. The other intriguing detail you can see by just looking at the over all image of the paths? That the only quasi-happy ending is within the Mother thread. Alright, here is the outline:

Mr. Nobody Untangled, Decrypted, and Explained

Mr. Nobody Untangled, Decrypted, and Explained

As I said above, Mr. Nobody doesn’t follow anyone’s narrative rules for how movies ought to work. It is also the reason it bombed at the box office. But the entirety of this movie hinges on a single moment in Nemo’s life. Little Nemo, standing on a train station platform, between both his parents. His parents are divorcing. And there, on the platform, his parents ask him which way he wants to go. And so, little Nemo, standing there and staring into the vast unknown before him, is just attempting to make the world’s most difficult decision that will effect him for the rest of his life. If you’ve seen the Denzel Washington movie called Deja Vu, you will understand the concept. So, from here on out, I’ll lay out the different possibilities that little Nemo will attempt to reconcile and decide between.

Mr. Nobody Untangled, Decrypted, and Explained

There are really only three possibilities that Nemo investigates. Going with his father. Going with his mother. Or not making a choice at all. But within these three choices there are numerous branches and different possibilities that spread and leap and go all over the place. The various branches actually touch other possibilities. Sometimes the players are aware of one another, because further up their line they encountered them, and if they didn’t, then they’d be oblivious as to the person or their importance. But in order to see that the internal logic of the movie works? You have to literally walk each thread through the outline and validate that each scene snaps nicely where it should. Which, you can do by re-watching the film, and following through the outline I have created for you. (You are welcome).  It isn’t as intricate as my Dark Family Tree infographic but it will serve its purposes for us today.

Mr. Nobody Untangled, Decrypted, and Explained

Mr. Nobody – Nemo Goes With His Father

Standing there on the platform, Nemo chooses to go with his mother, he runs after the train at the last minute, and his shoelace breaks (due to a cost savings effort at a shoe plant – because while this movie majors in multi-verse potentialities, it minors in chaos theory), he stumbles, and doesn’t make it onto the train with his mother. 

The absolute, most difficult aspect of this movie to decipher? Hands down, was this section. Three love interests. Elise, Anna, and Jean. And, even multiple forks for each relationship. The bulk of Nemo’s investment down this rabbit hole is with Elise. But try as they might, they are perpetually missing each other. Nemo loves Elise, but Elise doesn’t love Nemo…and even if they do get together, she settles. And one thread shows Elise telling Nemo no after Nemo gave her a love letter. And as a result, Nemo marries the first woman he dances with in order to make Elise jealous. And even one thread shows that after Elise and Nemo marry, a fuel truck explodes and kills Elise. Or another time, Elise divorces Nemo, only for Nemo to die by drowning in his car. Please note, that it is after Elise dies in the fuel truck accident, that Nemo chooses to go to Mars to spread her ashes as she made him promise when they first met. And it is on this return trip from Mars that Nemo dies because of a meteorite destroying the ship.

Mr. Nobody Untangled, Decrypted, and Explained

Mr. Nobody – Nemo Goes With His Mother

There is only one fork in his vision of his time with his mother, and it actually comes very early on in the movie. Nemo meets Anna and Anna asks Nemo to go for a swim. Right? Simple enough. And in one branch, Nemo tells her that he doesn’t like hanging out with stupid people, offending Anna and her friends. But, in the other branch, Nemo tells her he doesn’t know how to swim. The rest of this thread is the two of them trying to connect, and trying to make it work in spite of life’s circumstances. But eventually they make it work, and they marry. 

Mr. Nobody Ending Explained

Mr. Nemo, the 118-year-old man, narrates our adventure back through his life. But Nemo tells the journalist, who has come to learn about the oldest mortal man still living, that neither of them actually exist. Why? Well, because, the entirety of the movie is occurring in the mind of a nine-year- old standing on a train platform trying to figure out what he should do in the moment of his parents divorce and separation. It could be argued that the rest of the movie is actually irrelevant. No. That’s not the right word. The rest of the movie is a figment. But it is the figments of a poor boy, distraught by the impossible position his parents put him in.

And it is there, on the platform, that Nemo realizes that going with either parent won’t work. That there has to be another way. And so Nemo leaves the platform and ultimately finds Anna, and lives his life happily with her. With this last detail in place, Nemo dies at the allotted time…and with that, the universe stops expanding, and collapses back in on itself, all the way back to the train station platform. And with that, Nemo’s complicated haze of a life solidifies and the choices work out to the perfect future he was finally able to find. He is reunited with Anna. And his parents happily reunite as well.

But What Does Mr. Nobody Mean?!

What’s funny about my laying out, and arranging, the different pieces and parts of the movie is that it’s really irrelevant to the movie at large. But because I’m OCD that way, I couldn’t not do it. The things that actually mattered more to the movie, and the larger point that it was trying to make, I didn’t even cover. For example, the sections explaining Nemo’s life before he was born. The details about the leaves, the shoestring factory, and the rest. And why did I leave that out? First we have to talk a bit about chaos theory.

Most people are familiar with the idea of chaos theory. Within Chaos Theory, the idea of the butterfly effect is that there is a sensitive interdependence on initial conditions, wherein a minute change of state can cause an enormous difference later on. Butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, and it ultimately causes a tornado in St. Louis. Or what have you. This idea is riddled throughout Mr. Nobody. A shoestring manufacturer, attempting to save money, causes Nemo’s shoelace to break as he’s running on the platform to go be with his mother…thereby missing his big opportunity. Once Nemo causes a leaf to blow in the window, which causes a later Nemo to drowned later on. 

But pause for a moment. I’d go much deeper into Chaos Theory, and the details of resulting actions, if it weren’t for the fact that this entire movie is the active conjecturing of a nine-year-old child. Nemo doesn’t really know anything about Chaos Theory! Save for maybe a small idea about the very basics of the concept. And so we are given a nine-year-old’s perspective on the science and philosophical details surrounding an extraordinarily complex topic. This is what we need to take away from this detail about Chaos Theory… Nemo is attempting to formulistically control for all possible outcomes, including those outcomes influenced by the world’s chaos.

The movie Mr. Nobody isn’t a calculated scientific experiment that controls for all variables in a doctoral research lab (which, would be impossible anyway). This is in the mind of a nine-year-old kid. This movie is about the emotional trauma of divorce, and the impact it has on children being forced to make decisions their young minds can’t even comprehend, let alone decide on. 

As the nine-year-old Nemo stands there on the platform trying to figure out his future fates based on this one decision, his various alternative selves begin dying, failing, stopping. None of them are aware that they are solely alive in the mind of a nine-year-old them. They don’t really exist. Until, that is, the 119-year-old Nemo finally becomes self aware of the situation playing out before the audience. That he doesn’t exist. That the interviewer doesn’t exist. That none of this is real. And that soon, with the death of the last remaining possible outcome? Time will snap back to nine-year-old Nemo, wherein he must decide. 

I have to say, that before I started writing, I read a pile of different theories as to what the movie might possibly mean. Theories about recreation, karma, and the theory of the “Big Crunch.” And I have to say, there is a lot of room in this movie for going your own road and having the movie say what you want it to say. But as in Occam’s Razor, ultimately, the simplest possible explanation has to win out. And that is, the entire movie is held within the troubled imagination of a nine-year-old, attempting to make the most difficult decision he will ever make. 

Disagree? Brilliant. Tell me all about it (civilly) in the comments!

Edited by: CY