There’s a battle outside ragin’

Bob Dylan puts a little bite behind his bark in “Masked and Anonymous”

Tom Horgen

Early on in this conundrum of a movie, Bob Dylan, or Jack Fate, as he’s called in “Masked and Anonymous,” is released from prison.

He returns to the streets of an unnamed city, in an America scorched by civil war. The aging legend, once championed for defining whole eras with just his words, is an afterthought in this post-apocalypse. He’s been sprung by a Don King-like promoter to play a benefit concert for Americans suffering under the country’s fascist regime – its dictator canonized by murals plastered across the city.

Dylan – or Fate, whichever you’d like to call him – first comes across a scruffy-as-ever Cheech Marin, who’s sitting against the most beautiful, graffiti-drenched wall you’ve ever seen. Marin points out a horrifying scene taking place off camera. Two eagles are killing a pregnant rabbit. Dylan, unaffected, simply mumbles, “The rabbit must have done something.”

“Masked and Anonymous” is, if the “eagle” allegory hasn’t hit you yet, a direct attack on the Bush administration and a vehicle for Dylan to break his silence, finally revealing his disgust for our current state of affairs.

Dylan and “Seinfeld” scribe Larry Charles wrote the film in mid-2002, but their critique also takes on, however eerily, more recent events. Their attack unfolds with Dylan, as he prepares for the concert, wandering into allegorical conversations with the strange inhabitants of this dilapidated United States – a United States not so removed from reality.

We learn much of the war was fought over religion and we hear euphemisms such as “Keeping people from being free is big business.” Much of this information comes from the many cameos done by famous faces – Val Kilmer and Mickey Rourke show up, as well as Christian Slater, of all people.

The most memorable cameo, though, comes from Ed Harris, painted in blackface. He tells Dylan the United States’ president is “obsessed with retaliation and revenge.”

While all this allegory and insight is spit out and mulled over by the film’s many famous actors, Dylan just sits and listens.

Near the end of the film, a reporter – Jeff Bridges – who has also been to hell and back, corners Dylan and says, “You’re supposed to have all the answers, man.” For every atrocity or shift in political thought that has occurred in the past four decades, Dylan has answered with songs such as “Masters of War” or “Hurricane.” His music has been the pulse of forward-thinking leftists for almost half a century.

But in our post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, in a political climate wary of outspoken artists, Dylan seems to have curtailed his critical tongue.

He explains himself in a voiceover, just as the final scene in “Masked and Anonymous” fades to black. “I stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago,” he elegizes.

It seems the times they are a-changing – so fast even the troubadour with the quick wit sits without answers. The rationale behind patriot acts and billion-dollar wars is too contorted for even Dylan to comprehend. But has he fallen into complacency, as Jack Fate did when the two eagles attacked the rabbit?

No. Dylan does have some juice left in him. He made this movie, didn’t he?