NINE DAYS. Starring: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, Arianna Ortiz, Bill Skarsgard, David Rysdahl, and Lisa Starrett. Directed by Edson Oda. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language). 124 min.
Showings signs of similarity to Terrence Malick’s, much acclaimed movie, The Tree of Life (2011), this film explores the meaning of life in a stimulating and evocative way, using a paranormal plotline to dramatise its messages. The film is directed by first-time, Brazilian-Japanese Director, Edson Oda.
Will (Duke) spends his time in a remote house watching TV coverage of people going about their lives. One of them dies, so creating a vacancy for a new life on Earth. The movie doesn’t unfold on Earth as we know it, but in some unnamed parallel dimension. A woman called Amanda (Starrett) has created the vacancy by being killed in a road accident. She suicided, and Will is preoccupied with ‘why?’ Will has the task of judging souls before they inhabit the bodies of the living, and he has nine days to come to his judgment about who takes Amanda’s place. He is assisted in his judgment by Kyo (Wong), a soul who has never been ‘alive’.
Five unborn, adult souls are selected by Will and they arrive at his house in the middle of the desert, to be auditioned for the opportunity to be born. They want Will to determine their suitability to fill the vacancy that Amanda has created. His tests must be passed for them to be born to a new life. Failure means oblivion – Will will erase their existence. One of the unborn souls is Emma (Beetz), who is a free-spirited soul, unlike the others. Will is fuelled by his interactions with the souls he interviews, and Emma’s soul in particular – her spontaneity forces him to reassess his own life. Will asks simple questions about the likes and dislikes of the lives of those he interviews; he poses complex moral dilemmas that must be answered; and each of the unborn souls is asked to comment on those who he has previously chosen. Ironically, in the process of selection, Will’s own life comes under scrutiny. He is accused by one of the souls to be a person who never did anything meaningful in his own life, making him unsuited to be a judge of others. When Will’s life comes under critical scrutiny, Emma signifies his salvation.
The five souls have different philosophies of life. Some seek pleasure (Hale); some seek romance (Ortiz); and some want release from being victimised (Rysdahl). Human failings and lack of empathy start to discriminate the candidates, and Will narrows his choice down to two souls: Emma, and Kane (Skarsgard). Emma’s spontaneity brings her to see the best in people, and Kane is against the evil he sees in others. In his final judgment at the end of the nine days, Will chooses Kane, but then regrets his choice, and goes looking for Emma, who has run away. The movie concludes after Will, in anguish, interacts poetically with Emma’s soul.
This is a totally engrossing movie that stretches the imagination. Winston Duke gives an amazing performance as Will, as he weaves fantasy, reality, and self-doubt together.
The direction by Edson Oda is breathtakingly original. His direction is remarkable, the script is brilliantly written, and the movie’s plotline under his direction borders on the unique. The movie virtually forces philosophical reflection on the meaning of life, and invites rich discussion on multiple moral fronts.
It asks, for example, ‘What is the morality associated with how humans treat each other?’, ‘What are the choices that define people as humans?’, and ‘What is the meaning of human responsibility?’ This is a highly original movie about the need for humans to hold a desire for life.
In this film, truths and conjectures about life are communicated under the guidance of a quasi-spiritual director (Oda), who is asking viewers to knowingly embrace the right to exist. The film contains massive food for spiritual discussion, and represents cinematic art at its best.
Sony Pictures Classics
Released 15 July 2021
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media