It is not an easy undertaking to size up the elusive, contradictory character of Bob Dylan. A minstrel, a poet, perhaps even a prophet, but most surely an artist who is beyond the time he is living in. This complexity is evident in Dylan’s compositional language: his songs are sometimes narrative and they nail the miseries inflicted by power with a merciless look at the world; at other times, they prove to be symbolic in an attempt to grasp the world of feelings and movements of the soul; at other times, they become spiritual and sacramental, in the intuition of those flashes of the infinite which vibrate in the human being and in the world. The breadth and depth of his writing is evident in how it integrates and merges, through harmony or by contrast, the many folk ballads, the blues, and the rock and jazz rhythms, while even trespassing into gospel.
In order to get closer to the figure of Bob Dylan, we can refer to the movie I’m Not There (2007) directed by Todd Haynes. In the film, Haynes illustrates the American singer and songwriter’s personality through six different characters, each of whom embodies one aspect of Bob Dylan’s artistic and personal nature. And so, the six incarnations: a small black boy walks without a pause, following Woody Guthrie’s inspiration; Jack Rollins, an introverted folk singer, tries to flee manipulation by the media, taking refuge in Christian faith; Jude Quinn, played by Cate Blanchett, a rock star who, through genius and intemperance, challenges the press with irony. These and more besides are the characters presented to the viewer to illustrate Bob Dylan, through this game of masks, through dream and reality, through his creativity and humanity, his failings and his triumphs.