“It’s about nothing.” —Bob Dylan speaking about the 1975-1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour When Bob Dylan began his music career in the early 1960s, he was quickly crowned the spokesperson of his generation. He was seen as a musical poet who could weave words beautifully to speak to his generation and on their behalf to others. Dylan quickly became uncomfortable with the unrealistic expectations of his fans and he found ways to rebel, often purposefully disappointing his fans.
Almost 60 years later, Dylan’s fans still look to his music for meaning and hope. And Dylan continues to remove himself from the pedestal that he has been put on. The Rolling Thunder Revue film starts with Dylan trying to give a meaningful explanation of the purpose of the tour. He quickly gets annoyed, citing that he can’t remember anything about the tour because it happened so long ago. He is defiant: “It’s about nothing.” Once again, Dylan has popped the balloon and deflated the expectations of the viewer.
The film then goes on to challenge the authenticity of Dylan even further by introducing fictional characters among the real concert footage and interviews of what some call a ‘pseudo-documentary.’ Dylan is complicit to Martin Scorsese’s vision of the film, often providing elaborate stories and intimate details about these fictional characters and their fake experiences. The viewer is tasked with discerning truth from fiction as well as how these parts of the film contribute to the larger story being told through the film.
Unfortunately, the fictional elements fall flat. It feels like Scorsese is trying too hard to cause the viewer to think deeply. The most profound moments of the film are found in the original interviews and footage of the tour. We see youth who are bored and disillusioned with American life weeping at the concerts. We see broader society respond indifferently to the performances. We see Dylan and other performers wrestle with their purpose. One of the most compelling conversations in the film occurs between Dylan and poet Allen Ginsberg. Dylan argues that the poet is no longer in the public consciousness as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Ginsberg is faced with an existential dilemma. Continue with poetry and slowly become more irrelevant to youth or look for other ways to stay relevant.
Despite the short-comings of the fictional sections, Martin Scorsese does a masterful job of exploring humanity’s incessant search for meaning. When audiences look to Bob Dylan for answers, the film provides a back-stage view of how he rejects this role. Dylan does not want to be their savior, knowing that he cannot deliver. Two thousand years ago, Jesus also saw confused and helpless crowds but had the compassion (Matt. 9:36) and the authority (John 14:6) to be the Savior these crowds needed. Engaging with Martin Scorsese’s film about Bob Dylan’s 1975-1976 tour helps the viewer understand humanity’s desire for meaning and the problems that arise when another human is elevated to the role of savior. (Netflix)