Life and Death are important aspects of debutant director Edson Oda’s ‘Nine Days.’ Therefore, while it has little to no relevance, ‘Novena’ (Latin for Nine) – an ancient Christian tradition that consists of mournful prayers followed by a feast on a ninth day, comes to mind. In Oda’s film, death triggers a summoning of 5 souls who are tested under the watchful eyes of Will (Winston Duke), looking for a suitable replacement for one of his human subjects after they die unexpectedly.
If the above excerpt confuses you, let me narrow it down to the basic. Will is sort of like a reverse grim-reaper. His job is sitting in his living room in an isolated desert to study a few human subjects via a collection of POV television sets. When one of the human subjects that he is watching dies, his task is to find a replacement. We don’t know who has assigned him these tasks but that hardly matters. Herein comes our 5 souls. Notice that I call them souls because, in spite of them inhibiting a grown-up body, Will gives them all names on arrival. Furthermore, his job also implies to test these souls – stuck in limbo up until now, to see if they deem fit to be humans.
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Out of the 5 souls, the most ably fit is Emma (Zazie Beetz). On multiple occasions, his colleague Kyo (Benedict Wong) hints him towards this perfect suitor. She is charming, feels all her emotions, and above all has a good sense of humor. However, Will isn’t half interested in her. The reason is presumably her too real and optimistic personality. Will’s worldview comes from his stint as a human himself. He claims that humankind is not as cheery and kind as Kyo – who has never been human thinks. The immediacy of this fact needs to be understood by the people contesting for the role.
So, as Will slowly starts picking them out Vis-à-vis, some strange questions and tasks, his more potent issue with the world come to the forefront. Why did one of his subjects commit suicide when there wasn’t virtually anything wrong with her? Edson Oda is more interested in questioning the existential dread in Will’s character than finding the right fix for being a human being. The counter views of the world are presented in front of the audience. While on one hand, Will’s pessimism and overwhelming philosophy of the big bad world seem more realistic, Emma’s optimistic, life-embracing attitude towards the fruits of life doesn’t seem all too weary either.
Coming back to the biblical nature of this narrative, I suppose there are multiple ways in which I see ‘Nine Days.’ While on one hand Will can be seen as God and his viewpoint of the world we live in, the narrative shows us a gateway to God’s real emotions. We see Will go through a troubled time when one of his subjects take their life. Is this how God would feel when one of his created lives is taken away? Would he feel troubled too? Or would he just move on to send the next person in on the planet?
The other simplistic way to look at the film is to look at it as an allegory of a man’s true feelings taking up the canvas. This is apt because Will’s view of the world is countered with a woman’s view of an optimistic society. Will remains reserved about his emotions and how exactly he should react to having encountered death. To put it in the context of the real world, men are mostly deemed to be not-so-manly enough if they cry or let their emotions run it’s the course when a close one dies. They are supposed to man-up and keep it all in. In a way, Nine Day acts as a self-release. It’s a complex metaphor that tells us how a man feels pain and how they should be able to embrace that pain and release it away into the void. This allegory is beautifully illustrated with a philosophically charged finale that will make you reach within and help yourself to some ’emotion.’
Meanwhile, there just might be a third and final interpretation of what I see in ‘Nine Days.’ It can be seen as a representation of a method actor’s life. Will was himself an actor in the life he had on earth. The entire narrative can be considered as an allegory for Will’s various characters taking up the image scope on the television. Since all of the subjects come from Will’s understanding of the world, they are like an extension of his own. Basically, for an actor shedding one character and inhibiting another is like shedding one’s own skin and then moving into someone else. There’s a very important subtext about memories that Will formulates for souls who don’t make it to the final cut. Similarly, the death of one of the characters is a direct implication of having to erase that part of his memories forever. This is a sad reality but it can also be a life-altering one. For Will, it becomes the latter. Emma serves as a muse who guides him to look within and find out more of him that he has been shutting off for quite some time.
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‘Nine Days’ is a deeply moving and human tale about what it means to be a human. It is also, in some ways about accepting life as it is. The twists and turns that it brings are part and parcel of existence and for Will to understand them, there’s more than rebirth that can help him with it. This gives Nine Days a spiritual edge. It then becomes an oddity about the meaning of life and what makes and breaks a person. The whole ordeal about who deserves to live a life and who doesn’t is used to question more pertinent questions about life, it’s many hardships and how a human has to deal with their demons in their own ways.
Edson Oda’s film might remind you of a lot of other films. Koreeda‘s After Life (1998) immediately comes to mind. While it was about a life after death where memories play an important part, Nine Days can be seen as a before-life scnerio. The whole idea of leaving a prototype subject with one memory of their liking is cruel and deeply sensitive at the same time. It gives the prototype an experience to embrace a moment from a life they could have had. Even before they disappear into thin air, this one happy memory remains the summary of their soulful existence.
There are a lot of things that Oda is juggling here. He is ably helmed by Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography and Antonio Pinto’s understated score that comes in only when absolutely necessary. The acting by the entire cast is phenomenal. Especially Winston Duke in his first starring role in incredible as Will. He pours in so many emotions into the character that eventually feel the pain of being him. His gigantic presence might have come off as overwhelming towards the start of the film, but he subdues his character with an ethereal beauty that is hard to define.
‘Nine Days‘ meanders somewhere in the middle where the narrative feels like it’s holding onto a premise that is moving off like the sand in an hourglass. However, Oda imbibes it with so much heart that his incredibly original idea comes out as moving, in spite of leaning towards a slight pretense every now and then. The fact that he doesn’t overfeed the audience with emotional jargon only gives the film more depth. You ponder over it long after it is over and that is a sign of a great film.
Nine Days Trailer
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