“You are being considered for the amazing opportunity of life.”
What were you like before you became you? Is there life before life? Edson Oda’s Nine Days doesn’t so much ask or answer such questions, it plays with the possibilities they present. In the process we have a chance to consider what a gift it is to live.
Will (Winston Duke) lives in a secluded beachfront bungalow. There he spends his days watching a bank of TV sets that show the world through the eyes of various people around the world. He makes notes on each, keeping his file up to date. Will and his assistant Kyo (Benedict Wong) look forward to special days in the lives of their charges. One such day an upcoming concert debut by young Amanda (a bit of a favorite of Will’s). But when she suddenly dies in an accident (suicide?), Will is devastated. But he has to get busy, because it is his job to choose a new soul to be born.
Will, we discover, has chosen all of these people he watched (and perhaps vicariously lives through) for the gift of life. We aren’t sure if he is a divine being, or just a cog in the cosmos. But having had “previous experience as a living person” he understands the challenges that life can hold. (Kyo hasn’t had such experience. His job is to make sure Will follows the proceedures and to act as a sounding board in Will’s deliberation.)
Soon a selection of new souls arrives for interviews. Each new soul has their unique personality. Some are easily dismissed, but he settles on a group of five finalists. He gives them various tests to try to determine which will have the best shot at success in living. The others return to nonbeing. But we can tell that Will’s grief over Amanda’s death is affecting his judgement.
One of the finalists, Emma (Zazie Beetz), intrigues Will. She shows up late for her first appointment. She fails to give clear answers to his questions. Yet she has an empathetic and curious character. It is hard for him to dismiss her, even though she doesn’t fit into the process well.
Oda notes that one of his influences in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite films. Nine Days is in many ways a perfect companion to that film. After Life is souls being processed after their death. Here is the process before birth. Oda gives a very clear nod to that film in the loving way Will gives those whom he rejects a small artificial life.
By looking at life as something that is not yet for these characters, we get to see a bit of the wonder, the pain, the joy, the hope, and the peril that makes up life. We grieve for those souls not chosen for this “amazing opportunity”, because they have been given a taste of what that could be. We celebrate the possibilities that will exist for that one soul who is chosen. And we should ponder what it means for us to have been given the lives we have.
Nine Days is opening in select theaters with a rollout to follow.
Photos courtesy of Sony Picture Classics.