Nine Days, written and directed by Edson Oda, is a visually arresting exploration of life and the moments that remind us of living, even for ones who don’t exist yet. Nine Days is at once restrained and brimming with emotion thanks to its story and phenomenal cast. The film follows Will (Winston Duke), a recluse, who has to interview a group of souls for the chance to be born. This process lasts nine days.

This is a contest of sorts to earn the right to life. Will chooses the victor, and there can only be one. There are few words to describe what occurs before we live. It’s why it’s hard to frame Nine Days as it takes place in a kind of holding area where few get to go on, and most souls will cease to exist. At first, I used the word purgatory; however, that does not work. Purgatory is a location after death, and these souls have not even lived.  

Story Feels Like A True To Pre-life Peak Behind The Curtain

Nine Days’ setup in Will’s home reminds me of the beleaguered mountains of paperwork civil servants in Beetlejuice. Although Beetlejuice dealt with the afterlife and Nine Days takes place pre-life. There are no ticket numbers here, but Will has files and videos of his charges. Will monitors the lives of those he has selected to be born via obsolete-style televisions. The process, with a lack of up-to-date technology, is reminiscent of state jobs. They are usually the last to adopt the latest tech but expect optimal results.  

No other film springs to mind about souls jockeying for a single slot. Despite their appearances, the souls are new, and Will’s job is to choose one, leaving the rest to fade away. Their existence tragically cut short before they’ve had an opportunity to live in the real world. Each soul is distinct, thanks to the test. As such, we see their personalities come to the fore and the film’s construction and story allow the characters to shine.

The Acting Tugs At The Heart

Nine Days image of Will (Winston Duke) standing in a vast arid landscape.
Nine Days image of Will (Winston Duke) courtesy of Sony Picture Classics

Winston Duke is a revelation. He is a loving, tortured soul haunted by his past and allowing it to paint his present. Assisting Will is Kyo (Benedict Wong), whose job is to sign off on Will’s choice. There is an easygoing camaraderie between the pair. But an undercurrent of tension surfaces because of the unique auditioning soul, Emma (Zazie Beetz), a lost charge, and Will’s past.

Zazie Beetz brings innocent optimism to Emma in every expression. She’s inquisitive, smiling, and childlike, and Zazie Beetz shines here. Emma is the opposite of Will’s Earth battle-worn spirit. She’s at a possible beginning. He’s at the end and looks at candidates from one driving question. Can they survive the battlefield that is life? 

Direction Strengthens The Film

The direction elevates the realism. Nine Days doesn’t feel like a film so much as a glimpse into a mystery we rarely see. The use of wide shots emphasizes the vastness of this realm, especially when alongside Will’s little house, making it authentically breathtaking. The set complements the concepts explored in the film. Plus the music adds to the ethereal quality of the film yet remains grounded in moments of human nature. Nature and the soul are a natural combination. Both are unexplainable and mysterious. Yet so is nature and birth, even when science explains it.  

Highly Recommended

Nine Days raises so many questions about the soul, character, nature vs. nurture, and what it is to live and value fleeting moments. It’s fascinating witnessing the moments that resonate with each soul. The audience will fixate on the screen while reflecting inward. What do we notice in the world? Do we see beauty? Is life a battleground? So much depends on our environment. But, is the ability to survive, to see the glass half-full, innate in some souls. Are others destined to remain huddled in the shadows all their life? 

Nine Days is a quiet exploration of what comes before life. Many films explore life after living, but few tackle what comes before with genuine artistry. Nor do many simultaneously explore life after death and before living. Nine Days is gorgeous, visually and abstractly vast in scope, delivered through an outstanding lead cast. Viewers will find a rejuvenating joy for the moments, small and large, in everyday life. 

Nine Days trailer via Youtube from Sony Picture Classics