This year, it’s a common theme that the films I truly love have been ones I expected to like but –for whatever reason– did not expect to love. Films with high concepts that I did not expect to leave me with tears in my eyes or with a renewed urge to look inward and assess my life and being. Nine Days is the third such film this year. A beautiful achievement from director Edson Oda (in his debut feature, no less), Nine Days treads a unique path to an emotional catharsis that will leave you with a renewed sense of hope.
The story follows Will (Winston Duke), a man who selects –and then observes– the souls born into the world. He lives in a lovely house in the middle of a vast desert where he watches through the eyes of his charges on a bank of old cathode ray tube TVs and records the highlights on VHS tapes. As the film begins, his favourite soul –a violinist named Amanda– is preparing for a concerto. His friend Kyo (Benedict Wong) arrives to watch as well, and after a brief exchange, they notice that Amanda is driving very fast and eventually collides with an abutment.
This loss devastates Will, not only because she was his favourite but because it’s unclear whether this happened by accident or not. It also triggers another issue: Amanda’s TV needs a new feed. New souls now begin to show up to interview for the vacant position, as it were. He interviews and tests them, slowly narrowing the choice down to the soul he thinks will do best in the world.
There are several souls to interview, each who arrives out of the desert to Wills front door. Tony Hale is Alexander, an aloof soul who is only looking to enjoy the good times. David Rysdahl is Mike, a talented artist but insecure soul. Arianna Ortiz is Maria, a sensitive soul who seeks attachment. Bill Skarsgård as Kane, a cynical soul who is just looking for the best way to play the game. And finally, Zazie Beetz as Emma, a free-spirited soul who doesn’t seem to be concerned with being chosen at all. Each of them is good, but it is Duke who carries the movie, and rightly so.
The interviews themselves happen in several steps, including watching the TVs in Wills house and commenting on what they see there. You will likely be able to guess which souls make it to the end of the process, but as the field is narrowed, Will offers the souls he decides against selecting to choose a moment from their observations that were meaningful to them and then does his best to recreate it for them. These are some of the films more beautiful sequences, especially one where he recreates a bike ride through a city.
As this is going on, Will is also obsessing over the death of Amanda, and we learn that this is due to his time on earth not being the happiest, which is why he is so utterly repressed, and why he is so selective with his interviewees. Duke, someone who should already be on your radar from his performances in Black Panther and Us, gets to show his talent for performance here. Will is closed off from everything and keeps his emotions buried deep, and this makes the few times he does show us what he is feeling explosive and powerful.
Nine Days is a movie about reconnecting with oneself and about recognizing the moments we’re in rather than dwelling on the past or the future. Beetz exemplifies this attitude as Emma, so concerned with what is happening in the house that she seems entirely unconcerned with the chance at life. Beetz has a distinctly natural and open presence on screen and in this case provides a perfect contrast to Duke’s closed off performance. She is, of course, the reason that Will can open himself up again. When it comes time for the film’s final monologue, the minutes-long performance is dramatic, powerful, and affecting and brought this reviewer to tears.
Nine Days is an extraordinary film, and my feeling is that you, dear reader, will either connect with it entirely or not at all. For my part, I connected with it entirely, and I hope that you do too, as it will mean you’re enjoying one of the best films of the year.
- I do so love hearing Benedict Wong speak in his natural British accent.
- Zazie Beetz is going to be one of the biggest stars on the planet one day.
- Tony Hale in more things, please.
- I wonder when exactly we got to the point where the antiquated technology used by supernatural beings is now VHS tapes. It doesn’t feel that long ago that it would still be film reels.
Nine Days will open in cinemas this Friday, August 13th, in major Canadian cities and will arrive on-demand in the fall.
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