When Nine Days finishes, the existential meaning of life crisis we all ignore and bury under hobbies, work, everyday life finds a way to break through and cause severe trigger points. What is the meaning of life, what is our purpose here? Is it all a waste or are we meant for something greater than ourselves? What makes us who we are? Is it pre-determined or environmental – based on cause and effect, actions, and reactions to everyday situations? These questions are but a few asked in Edson Oda’s feature film. What a way to come out swinging for the fences with your directorial debut than to prod and poke into some of life’s toughest questions that bares no objectively correct answer.
I couldn’t help feeling this profound sense of awareness as Oda’s film gets its legs under it and dives into what the film focuses on. Life is about the details, the little things and moments that we normally don’t pay any mind to but hold so much emphasis when the realization hits. Oda’s attention to the details is immaculate. And in turn his characters display that same level of attention to the 5 potential souls that will be in competition for life. Will (Winston Duke) is a gate keeper, a judge of who will be the lucky soul to be born into the world. Will was once alive; therefore, he is the best judge of character to choose the next human, or so he believes.
Working with Will (not for) is Kyo (Benedict Wong) who assist Will in creating moments, the rigorous interviews the candidates go through in hopes of being selected and acting as a support system when Will becomes frustrated and can’t let go of something he feels responsible for. Will holds so much weigh on his shoulders – in his tiny, turn of the century house, surrounded by emptiness and sand, a lot of sand, old school televisions are stacked in the living room. Each television represents a person from their point of view. Will watches and records every moment as an impartial viewer. These are all the souls Will chose for life – he’s basically their father, their savior.
What brings in the candidates is a tragedy starting out as a triumph. As that proud pseudo father, Will and Kyo make an event out of it – they get dressed in their finest clothing and gather in front of a monitor only to be left utterly speechless. A violinist is killed, and a spot opens on earth for a replacement. 5 candidates will be put through interviews and a best fit will be determined subjectively by Will. Maria (Arianna Ortiz), Mike (David Rysdahl), Alexander (Tony Hale), Kane (Bill Skarsgård) and Emma (Zazie Beetz). Each of the five potential souls represent a different personality type but Oda focuses his lens on Emma and Kane.
Will’s tests are extreme – asking tough questions to souls that just started to understand language and what they are. All of this to prove he can choose a good person – who’s strong yet sensitive. And when someone is eliminated from contention – they choose a moment in which Will and Kyo bring to life so they can experience that joy. It’s the fleeting moments, the moments we take for granted that hold so much power yet if we stop and appreciate them, they are the happiest moments we can experience as humans.
Playing in the sand at the beach or riding a bike down the street in the sunshine.
Oda does explore the darker elements of life but not to the extent of the happiness and joy. The soul he chooses, in his eyes can’t be weak or show any signs of it since his life as a human may be connected to weakness. Winston Duke is exceptional is playing coy with Will’s weakness and obsession – fighting a losing battle to control those emotions when Emma pushes back. Oda for a time leaves his film open to predictability showing a clear choice with how much his characters appear on screen. Pleasantly, Oda subverts expectations but in Will’s choice for a soul, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
Most of that can be attributed to Zazie’s performance. She has this ability to show every bit of emotion on her face that her character is experiencing with serenity and kindness. She’s rebellious yet obedient to the parameters of Will’s test and the two of them with Benedict Wong make a delightfully frustrating trio to watch interact. Kyo hasn’t been alive, but he has more life to him than Will has – able to see the good in people no matter what demons they hide within themselves.
Nine Days is a profound, captivating exploration of the meaning of life by first time director Edson Oda. Emotionally driven but lacking vibrancy in atmosphere, Oda’s directorial debut will linger on well past the viewing leaving a sense of self-awareness from the viewer. I don’t know whether I want to embrace all the moments life has to offer and live every day to the fullest or to question mortality and fear what may come next. All I know is, Nine Days is a powerfully emotional journey made to open our eyes to new possibilities.
Written By: Edson Oda
Directed By: Edson Oda
Music By: Antonio Pinto
Cinematography: Wyatt Garfield
Starring: Winston Duke, Benedict Wong, Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl, Arianna Ortiz
Release Date: July 30, 2021
Running Time: 1 Hour 50 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
My Score: 4 out of 5