Ethereal and existential, Edson Oda’s Nine Days touches on intense themes and what it means to be human to deliver one of the most beautiful and touching cinematic experiences of the year.
Winston Duke stars as Will, a supernatural arbiter who judges souls for the selection of human life. He has been doing this job for some time and lives alone in an isolated house among a desert landscape. He often views a series of television sets projecting the lives of the souls he has selected. His only company is Kyo (Benedict Wong), a soul that wouldn’t disappear.
Following the death of his favorite, Amanda, Will is tasked with selecting the soul who will replace her. The candidates include the carefree and optimistic Emma (Zazie Beetz), the jaded but headstrong Kane (Bill Skarsgard), the high-strung Alexander (Tony Hale), the love-struck Anne (Arianna Ortiz) and the delicately self-conscious Mike (David Rysdahl). Will explains the situation to each candidate and puts them through a series of tests.
If they make it through the entire process, it will take nine days and they will be chosen for life. Otherwise, Will and Kyo grant them a parting gift such as walking on a beach or riding a bicycle, then their souls will depart and disappear. All the while, Will wrestles with Amanda’s death and life, wondering if he made the correct decision in choosing her in the first place.
The decisions for why each candidate is eliminated or why they continue are never made entirely clear. Not to mention, the “person in charge” is never shown in any capacity and just referred to, lending further spirituality to the film’s narrative.
Duke anchors everything with a steady delicacy. Despite being such a large man, his voice is tempered and his appearance is nothing if not comforting. His characterization is based on self-repression and shame, which allows his judgement to be clouded by his own faults. While Will questions everything, Kyo acts as the one without the answers, but realizes there are no answers. Wong does a fine job grounding the proceedings as an audience surrogate, but still operating within the the rules of this universe.
Each other actor gets their chance to shine, with Skarsgard and Beetz perfectly inhabiting different sides of the spectrum, but never coming into direct conflict. Neither sees the other as a candidate to vanquish, and it lets the audience root for each, without rooting against the other. Rysdahl and Ortiz have much more limited time on screen, but astonish when they are there. Both of their final scenes are heart-achingly beautiful.
Oda does a perfect job of balancing what to show and what to leave a mystery. The world lends itself to the unknown, but small glimpses of tethers to reality are still present. The final scene is a true show stopper and gives Duke and Beetz a great sendoff before the credits roll. The final 10 minutes send the film into another stratosphere.
I don’t expect this film to be for everyone. I can understand how some could find it pretentious or sentimental, but it completely worked on me. It is such a rare occurrence to discover a film from a fresh perspective and be blown away so thoroughly. Nine Days is the best film I have seen this year and it will have to take a monumental achievement to knock it off its pedestal.