Life is hard every day. But Nine Days suggests that the work beforehand can be just as challenging.
Set in the world before this one, Nine Days follows Will (Winston Duke), an arbiter who judges which souls shall have the opportunity to inhabit the bodies of the living. Whenever a position opens up, Will meets with potential applicants who are interested in making the journey to Earth. However, when one of his previous hires is killed in a car accident, Will is left shaken by her death. Suddenly, his world feels emptier and yet he must still interview for who takes her place. As the new applicants arrive for their nine day vetting process, Will askes them questions about life and makes notes on their responses to determine their ‘worthiness’ for the job. Of all of the candidates though, he is most intrigued by Emma (Zazie Beetz), a soul to displays a level of empathy and curiosity that is both fascinating to Will yet also feels potentially dangerous to him as well.
Written and directed by Edson Oda, Nine Days is a beautiful piece that engages some of the deepest philosophical questions of life and existence. For a film that takes place pre-life, Oda has created a story that very much deals with our everyday world. In some ways, the film almost carries the same mundane spirit as modern workplace series. Even though he exists outside of time, Will’s work is sometimes as tedious and repetitive as a regular office drone, even if the stakes for choosing the proper applicant remain so much greater. In other words, despite nature of Will’s menial job, Oda’s stunning writing emphasizes the importance of every soul and the impact that their life may have on the world.
However, Days never forgets the struggles that it takes to get through the day either. Emphasizing the effects of pain and suffering on the soul, Nine Days shows a world where those who oversee creation are also burdened by its brokenness. What’s more, while the film takes its time with its pacing, it never feels too slow or overly padded. This is a film which allows its characters the space and time to grow and mature, despite the fact that it happens before their own birth.
While the entire cast is solid within the film, it’s truly the performances by Duke and Beetz that are most noteworthy. (Although, Tony Hale’s work is always welcome within any project.) As Will, Duke brings a surprising level of stoicism and rage to the role. Whereas one might assume that offering the gift of life could be a blessing, Will bears the weight and responsibility of the position on his shoulders. Frustrated and fearful, Duke lumbers around onscreen in a fascinating performance as a man broken and burdened.
Sitting opposite Will’s gruff antagonism though is Beetz’ Emma. Playing the character with eagerness and delight, Beetz absolutely sparkles onscreen. There’s a youthful impetuousness embedded within this character which makes her instantly likeable. At the same time though, Beetz never allows her innocence to stray into the realm of naivety. Despite her youthful enthusiasm, there’s an insight to Emma’s questions that shows wisdom. Instead of pushing Will out of rebelliousness, Emma seeks to understand. Held up against one another, Beetz and Duke provide some incredible chemistry as they push one another to see the world in entirely different ways.
While the idea of life before birth isn’t necessarily new (see Pixar’s Soul), Oda takes the concept and inverts it with a competitive edge. Like the world’s longest job interview, only one slot is available for new life to begin and each one of these souls wants the opportunity to experience it. Tasked with seeking out the best possible candidate, Will must weed through his applicants and choose who deserves the chance to live. However, part of the beauty of the film is that these individuals still matter, even if they don’t receive the ‘position’. Each one of these pre-individuals has their own innate desires and dreams already firmly implanted and Will sees the value in this. In an act that demonstrates value and grace, Will offers those who are not selected the chance to experience simulated moments of life. As a result, although there’s sadness embedded within these times, there is also joy.
Further, Will’s experience also highlights the most soul-crushing aspect of life on Earth: its unpredictability. As he grieves the loss of Amanda, he begins to wonder what the point of his job may be if people are going to simply going to lose the same precious lives that he offers them. However, through his time with Emma, Will senses something different. Though she will undoubtedly experience the same trials as everyone else, her insatiable desire to enjoy life is unusually jarring to Will. Whereas other candidates attempt to navigate the evaluation process professionally, there’s a passion and curiosity within Emma that is so infectious that it almost feels like a threat to the whole process. For Will, his job is to find those who can deal with difficult situations and struggles. However, for Emma, her soul simply wants to embrace life, including all of its pain and ambiguity.
Though quiet and reflective in its tone, there’s a beauty within Nine Days that’s almost poetic. With patience and care, Oda has created a world that both honours the spiritual sacredness of every soul but also respects the realities of hurt that we all experience. Even in the midst of this juxtaposition of opposites, the most important aspect of Days is that it also serves as a reminder that life—wherever it takes place—is worth living.
To hear our interview with writer/director Edson Oda, click here.
Nine Days is available in theatres on Friday, July 30th, 2021.