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Nine Days (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

NINE DAYS (2020)

Starring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgård, David Rysdahl, Arianna Ortiz, Perry Smith, Geraldine Hughes, Erika Vasquez, Brandy Pitcher, Eric Ramaekers, Eliza De Acevedo Brown, Lisa Starrett, Jeffrey Hanson, Elizaveta Shaikhulina, Taran Marshall, Caleb Fralick, Sterlin English, Alvaro Cortez, Cherie Julander and Amy Brown.

Screenplay by Edson Oda.

Directed by Edson Oda.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 124 minutes. Rated R.

There are certain movies that you respect more than you enjoy them. Nine Days is beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted and asks some very important questions about life and the human experience.

So why did it leave me a little cold?

Oddly, it rather reminded me of Wim Wenders’ beautiful, existential film Wings of Desire, which like this film is about angels watching over human beings down on Earth. Sadly, that comparison does Nine Days few favors.

Well, we are not sure if Will (Winston Duke) and Kyo (Benedict Wong) are angels, per se, however they are supernatural beings who experience human lives from afar. In fact, they see through the eyes of people experiencing lives. These lives are shown on stacks of old-fashioned tubed televisions (complete with attached VCRs). Will and Kyo watch in a remote house in some nondescript desert area.

It seems like they are middle management in the pecking order of creation. They appear to be arbiters in charge of choosing which souls will be chosen for a very limited amount of life experiences available. Once someone is chosen, they watch those lives – from afar, on television – and see how they turn out.

When one of those lives comes to a sudden and tragic end, Winston must mourn her loss (and his potentially bad choice in giving her the precious gift of life which was suddenly snuffed out way too early) at the same time as he finds a new soul to replace her.

This is apparently done in a competition of some sort. Several souls are to come to the house for up to nine days, watching the televisions of the living beings, answering questions, dealing with hypotheticals and trying to convince Will that they are worthy of life. One is set adrift each day, until the final one standing will get to experience a human life – in all its imperfect beauty.

It feels sort of like the world’s most morose reality show competition with some very high stakes.

I know that statement probably sounds like a criticism of the film, but I believe that was the intention of writer director Edson Oda. He seems to be ironically conflating something as monumental as the creation of a human life with something as trivial as reality television, which is an interesting, subversive idea.

I just wish that the rest of Nine Days were as intriguing as its premise.

In fact – and I know that this is an odd thing to say about a story with so much theological and philosophical resonance – but Nine Days is just so downbeat that it’s hard to connect with. For a movie which is supposedly celebrating the beauty of the human experience, most of the characters here just feel too dark, too emotionless, too damaged.

Perhaps that is a part of the experience of living, but it really makes the film hard to warm up to. Even when watching joyous occasions in their charges’ lives – one woman getting a violin recital, another one getting married – Will appears numbed and morose. He evinces little emotion when denying the souls of their dream of humanity, although he does go out of his way trying to allow them a bit of pleasure before they disappear, so he must care. Even when he finally does regain some passion, he shows it not in his own words, but by reciting Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself.”

Yet, as I said at the top, despite the rampant melancholia that suffuses Nine Days, the film is so well done, so imaginative, so symbolically sound and so expertly acted that it is hard to fault in the big picture. Nine Days is an exceedingly solid and adventurous movie, and I’m glad I saw it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be tempted to revisit its gloomy universe.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: July 30, 2021.

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