Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is a non-linear collision of the spirit of the life and times of Bob Dylan, along with the themes of his music in counterpoint to his fan base, his critics, and the political atmosphere of the time. The characters that assemble the portrait we get of Bob Dylan--both in the script and in the cinematography--reference influences Todd Haynes feels are important in communicating Bob Dylan in his film. For example, the portrayal of Bob Dylan we first encounter in the courtroom gives his name as, and resembles, French poet Arthur Rimbaud, an influence on Bob Dylan’s music. I also noticed parallels in imagery during Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Dylan to Federico Fellini's 8½: she floats like a balloon with a rope tied around her ankle like Guido in his dream. Even when they turn around with their guitars, but their guitars are machine guns and they shoot everyone in the audience is reminiscent of 8½. Richard Gere’s character, Billy the Kid, is in the movie to draw reference to the similarities between outlaw Billy the Kid’s fear of being caught and Bob Dylan’s fear and paranoia of everyone around him because everyone turned on him. The cinematography is similar to Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, which Dylan composed the soundtrack for.
The movie offers an abstracted view of the highs and lows of Dylan’s career, representing the points at which Dylan was successful with the folk artist Jack Rollins character, and when folk became the establishment, when Dylan sold out, which Heath Ledger’s Robbie and Cate Blanchett’s Jude represent in the film. One of the first pieces of advice the character Woody gets is to sing about his own time, something Bob Dylan embraced when he sang about social issues and was the voice of his generation. He gets criticized for selling out when he alienates his fan base with different music, and then accused in England of not having a social consciousness when all he’s ever done is make music in America for the disenfranchised. It’s like the character Arthur says at the end of the movie when he’s giving his list of seven simple rules of going into hiding: “If asked if you care about the world's problems, look deep into the eyes of he who asks, he will never ask you again;” and, “Never create anything, it will be misinterpreted, it will chain you and follow you for the rest of your life.” Such is the life of Bob Dylan.