Edson Oda’s feature film debut is an arresting contemplation on life. One cannot sit through the film without questioning their values, prejudices and behavior, and reflecting on the triumphs and tribulations they have endured. Through content that incites introspection, Oda challenges the viewers to purge pessimism from their minds and invite goodness into their souls. The spiritually themed film draws us in with an original premise.
Alone in his house, surrounded by barren land, Will (Winston Duke) sits on his living room couch facing a stockpile of television sets. Each set displays a point-of-view perspective of a different individual living out their life. After one set displays SMPTE color bars, a vacancy opens. Five candidates arrive to stay with Will for a maximum of nine days. Will evaluates the candidates as they study the lives on the TV screens and complete Will’s assignments. Whomever Will determines to be the best candidate for the position fills the vacancy, meaning that they are incarnated on Earth.
This inventive imagining of a beforelife beautifully offers a thorough examination of the human journey. Oda utilizes the five candidates to portray different outlooks and personality traits one may have, making us question what the ideal, every-day way of living is. Although nobody in this beforelife realm is considered alive or dead, their time there is limited, so both the fear of life and the fear of death are left on the table to digest.
The dichotomy between Will and the candidate Emma (Zazie Beetz) is a fruitful component of the story engine. Emma is a butterfly of a woman, whimsically fluttering through a spiritual dream, while Will, serious as a bee, is fixated on his work and stubborn in his methods. It takes Emma for us to see Will’s flaws.
Will towers over everyone in the house (actor Duke is 6’5”), exuding power and confidence, so things get especially interesting when his methods are challenged and the question of why Will gets to choose who lives arises. Tackling a challenging role, Duke exceptionally brings about one of the most exhilarating character arcs in recent memory.
Oda’s tight-knit script impressively develops every character and delivers tender moments, while being unpredictable and philosophically charged. It must be mentioned that two of the most beautiful scenes are derivative of an idea from Hirokazu Koreeda’s ingenious film, After Life (1998). I don’t know what Nine Days would be without it, as it is an integral part of the film.
Antonio Pinto’s score is essential to the film’s emotion. I love that a diegetic violin is part of the score itself. The violinist, Amanda, is a previous candidate who Will chose and someone with whom he closely identifies. Listening to her violin throughout the film is as if we’re listening to the symphony of Will’s story.
Nine Days is a kind of love letter to life itself, exploring humanness and advocating for self-development. Oda stresses our need to appreciate the gift of life, pointing out everyday miracles that we take for granted. You will certainly be moved and motivated to ponder your place under the sun. And that is why art exists.