Directors: Edson Oda
Writers: Edson Oda
Stars: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgård
Synopsis: A man interviews five unborn souls to determine which one can be given life on Earth.
Nine Days look through its own highly contemplative lens of love, fear, hate, anger, pride, disgust, and joy to view each other’s autonomy. Edison Oda’s long-awaited debut feature is a pensive meditation on the act of playing God and the randomness of choosing what (in this case, a soul) that makes a life worth living.
The concept of pre-existence is the focus of Oda’s film, even if some confuse the setup with reincarnation. That’s what Will (Us’s Winton Duke, just remarkable here) attempts to navigate arduously. He is The Interviewer- being that auditions unborn souls for a chance to be born into the world. It’s a stressful position to be in. Knowing your work is purely judged upon a soul’s choices that lead to success and failures. As the souls begin to emanate across the desert landscape, all end up on Will’s country home’s doorstep.
To witness this is Kyo (Benedict Wong). A loyal soul that arrived ages ago but never left. He has never been human and is obsessed with watching Will’s top choices for life on earth. All are displayed on stacked old television sets so he can observe their decisions and their effects. That’s when Will’s favorite, a young violinist named Amanda, dies after driving her car into the wall of a cement underpass. That’s when they all start showing up at his door because a slot has just opened up. All while grappling with why Amanda was so careless with the precious gift she was given.
Nine Days is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. Oda also wrote the script that needed a steady, patient hand that could have crumbled apart because of its fragile nature. The script is steeped in themes of creationism in its most basic form. Earth was created from free will (that’s foreshadowing), and God has the right to tinker with that process.
As Will begins, with what seems to be an arbitrary interview process, he gives them strict guidelines. He analysis each soul’s essence. Emma (Zazie Beetz) is empathetic and guarded, while Alexander (Tony Hale) is the yes-man and won’t take anything seriously. Kane (Bill Skarsgård) is a stoic realist who carefully considers his options before deciding. It’s all about the mental makeup that navigates life’s pitfalls, while Will forgets what qualities make life worth living. What he is doing is now questioning his belief in free will and the responsibility that comes with that.
Winston Duke is a powerhouse as Will in Nine Days. At points, he quietly contemplates each move, note, glance, and huff of air with tenderness and understanding. At others, his anger is as much as a light switch as he struggles with the decision that has no easy answers or guarantees. It’s a phenomenal performance that shows he has no ceiling. Along with Wong’s scene-stealing supporting turn, Beetz’s soulful presence, and Hale’s limited but moving portrayal, it may be the best casting of any film this year. Along with Antonio Pinto’s evocative musical score and beautiful cinematography by Wyatt Garfield, everything works so harmoniously.
Nine Days isn’t a film that works on many levels, but the one it plays on has higher aspirations are powerful and profound. Even if the ending scene is a bit too much epic poetry for my tastes for a film that is already so visually lyrical, however, Ado does make an apt point. One’s aspirations for experiencing moments of pure joy are universal. Will can’t help if he’s that picky. By all means, it’s hard to find that one leaf among all those blades of grass.