Comment: A Complete Unknown

Aoife Wood discusses her thoughts on the upcoming release of the new Bob Dylan biopic

(Image: Unsplash)

By now I think everyone has heard of the upcoming film A Complete Unknown, or perhaps I reside in a Bob Dylan eco chamber. If the rumours and filming photos are not all over your Instagram explore page hopefully a very brief summary from me can enlighten you.

A Complete Unknown is a Bob Dylan biopic currently in production starring Timothée Chalamet as Dylan. The information currently circulating online is that the film will follow 19-year-old Dylan as he arrives in New York for the first time. The film is also meant to feature Elle Fanning as a fictional lover – inspired by the very real Suze Rotolo, and Edward Norton as Pete Seger. From these names it is obvious A Complete Unknown is aiming for acclaim, and following in the footsteps of recently awarded biopics. 

Rumours about the film have been circulating since 2020 but has been delayed by both COVID and strikes. As an avid Bob Dylan fan I have been patiently waiting to know more and eventually watch A Complete Unknown. However, having learned more about the film, I have grown more pessimistic. That being said, I still eagerly await its release, if only to write a critical review about it.

As knowledge of this film becomes more mainstream I would like to direct this attention to the already existing Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There. This film takes a more abstract approach to biography, casting six actors as various fictional versions of Dylan and weaving together what feels like six different histories of Dylan.

I’m Not There to me, from the knowledge I have of A Complete Unknown, feels like it takes a more authentic approach. Instead of casting a current big name, the film feels like it has thought deeply about the various Dylan actors – though that’s not to say that I’m Not There does not feature some household names. Most notably, we see Marcus Carl Franklin as a younger Dylan and Cate Blanchett as one of the older Dylans, who each, despite not being obvious choices for the role, give fantastic performances.  

A Complete Unknown, however, seemingly with little thought has casted Chalamet. I think the most obvious criticism is the physical similarity but here I really take little issue. As mentioned previously, in I’m Not There we see both a woman and a Black boy cast as Dylan. Chalamet, though, is now 28-years-old, almost ten years older than the character he is playing. 

To me it feels like he was only really cast because he brings media attention and has an extensive history of being nominated for major awards. I myself am a big fan of many of Chalamet’s films and I do not doubt he will act well in A Complete Unknown, but I fear he was cast solely for money rather than authenticity.

The recent set photos of A Complete Unknown have also really let me down. The costume design feels very poor compared to I’m Not There – in which hair, makeup and costume completely transformed Blanchett into Dylan. To me Chalamet looks like a sitcom dad, not a 19-year-old Dylan. 

I’m Not There also is definitely a film for the fans and not the Academy – despite Blanchett’s Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. It involves a lot of background knowledge and references some more obscure moments in Dylan’s life, making it an almost impossible watch for anyone not familiar. Even as an avid fan, I found myself googling a few things. But, I think that is the point of a biopic. They should introduce you to new information about its subject and not just come across as a cash grab.

In about a month I will publish a more focused review of I’m Not There in my monthly movie recaps. For now, I will just say: it’s a beautifully authentic portrayal of Dylan and I see no need for another Dylan biopic.

Maybe when A Complete Unknown comes out I will be eating my words – something I would be glad to do. But for now, I can only recommend that anyone interested in the Chalamet biopic gives I’m Not There a watch.

4 thoughts on “Comment: A Complete Unknown

  1. Excellent article. If you really want to the real history of what happened with Bob Dylan you should read the book, “BOB DYLAN On A Couch & Fifty Cents A Day,” which is available on Amazon. It is a firsthand account from the son of the family in NYC Dylan was living with for several months in 1961. That’s where the real story is about the foundation and the why and how the roadmap was all laid out for Bob to follow as he walked down his roll of life. It’s not included in the film. It still remains the most crucial missing piece of Dylan history to this day. Fortunately,, it has all been captured and shared in this book. If you check it out on Amazon the significance will become very clear.

  2. It is disgraceful that, for whatever reason, Suze Rotolo who was a major influence on Dylan during this period, has been airbrushed out of the movie. She has been replaced by a fictitious character with a false name. Likewise Grossman and Sara Dylan have no part. The entire projects built on a castle of sand

  3. From all appearances, it seems that Mr Chalamet would be better suited playing Dana Carvey not Dylan.

  4. Completely obliterating any chance I’ll have of enjoying the production is the casting circumstance the star (at a reported 5’10”) is at least four inches too tall to persuasively portray the short-statured rock giant Dylan.

    BRYAN STYBLE/Florida

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