“Nine Days” is a little thought-provoking drama film which willingly delves into those familiar matters of life. After initially quite intrigued by its offbeat fantasy setting, I willingly followed its simple but thoughtful narrative as often admiring a number of poignantly human moments in the film, and I found myself gradually reflecting a lot on how I have lived my life during last 38 years – and how I should live during the rest of my life in the future.
At first, the movie lets us immersed in a small isolated world inhabited by its hero Will (Winston Duke) and a few other characters in the story. Although nothing much is explained about it, we come to gather that this world, which looks like being in the middle of some vast remote wasteland, is a sort of spiritual checkpoint before getting born into our world (Imagine a far plainer and more barren version of the Great Before in Pixar animation film “Soul” (2020)), and Will and his colleagues’ main job is monitoring the everyday lives of souls who were born into our world after being evaluated and then selected by them.
Via a bunch of old televisions assembled together in the living room of one cozy house assigned to him, Will often watches how those people selected by him live their respective lives day by day, and he has been particularly interested in a young woman who grows up to be a talented violinist. Although all of those selected souls are supposed to remember nothing once they get born into the world, she was somehow able to remember a bit about Will during her early years, and that is why Will has been particularly affectionate toward her for years.
And then something quite tragic happens in her life later, and that turns Will’s seemingly uneventful daily existence upside down as he becomes increasingly obsessed with how that could happen. He begins to check one record after another for finding whether there was actually anything seriously wrong in her life, and his colleague/best friend Kyo (Benedict Wong) is naturally concerned about him, though he cannot possibly give Will any nice pep talk as an entity who has never lived a life unlike Will.
Meanwhile, there soon comes a very important time when Will will handle a number of different candidates to be evaluated by him during nine days. During this period, Will must eliminate most of them one by one according to how they respond to a series of ambiguous tests, and the only one candidate will eventually remain to be ready for living a life.
Although he phlegmatically eliminates one candidate after another, Will remains as calm, gentle, and compassionate as before, and he also does his best for providing comfort and consolation whenever he notifies to a candidate of getting eliminated from the process. Although eliminated candidates will not exist sooner or later, they are given a chance to re-experience their most precious personal memory before their inevitable non-existence, and the screenplay by writer/director Edson Oda, who made a number of short films before making a feature film debut here, accordingly gives us several achingly humanistic moments not so far from Hirokazu Koreeda’s “After Life” (1998), a great Japanese film which is about a bunch of sincere spiritual entities helping souls moving onto afterlife with each own personal memory to cherish forever.
In the meantime, one of the few remaining candidates comes to draw more attention from Will. That candidate in question is Emma (Zazie Beetz), and she seems to be interested in Will as much as living a life out there. As she talks more with Will, she sees through him more, and Will slowly comes to reveal a bit of himself to her even though he still sticks to his ongoing duty as before. To him, it looks like Emma is a better candidate than Kane (Bill Skarsgård), but he also does not want her to get closer to him as a man who has been accustomed to emotional detachment, and that consequently generates some emotional tension between them.
Even at that point, the movie firmly maintains its meditative style and attitude not so far from Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” (2011). As a matter of fact, Oda and his cinematographer Wyatt Garfield often provide us a series of vividly impressive bits of life just like Malick’s film, and we come to muse more on our existence on the Earth. Furthermore, we later get an interesting discussion on life among Will and several other main characters, and you may find yourself agreeing to both of two very different viewpoints on life.
Most of you will probably not be surprised by the ultimate result of Will’s selection process, but the finale is undeniably touching mainly thanks to the quiet poignancy of Winston Duke’s good lead performance. While usually functioning as the stable counterpoint to the other stellar cast members including Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, and Benedict Wong, Duke comes to have several moments to show more of his character’s humanity along the story, and you will not be disappointed with one powerful showstopper moment which he delivers magnificently to say the least.
In conclusion, “Nine Days”, which received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival early in last year, is a small but admirable film, and it surely deserves more attention considering how it was quickly put aside after it was unceremoniously released in US several months ago. In short, this is one of the better films of this year, and I assure you that you will not be disappointed especially if you admire “The Tree of Life” and “After Life”.
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