‘Nine Days’ is an existential journey that leaves audiences reflecting on personal lives

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Will (Winston Duke) searches the expansive purgatory while searching for a soul. The movie premiered July 30. (Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic)
By Tim Nacey

We all know that life can be challenging and sometimes existing in itself can feel like work.

But what if it was actually like a job?

What if, before we were born into this world, we had to sit across a desk from a stone-faced interviewer and answer complex questions to prove that we deserve to live?

It’s a strange premise for a film and not one that leads to much octane-action, but director Edson Oda’s debut film “Nine Days” does a lot with it.

Winston Duke plays one of many interviewers named Will. He lives in a small house in a purgatorial desert somewhere parallel to our world. He spends his days sitting in front of a wall covered in old television sets, and each one depicts the first-person perspective of each of the souls he chose to move on to life.

Now and then, his partner Kyo (Benedict Wong) comes by to keep him company and, eventually, helps Will in choosing from a batch of “applicants” that wander to his house. These wandering souls are played by Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale and Bill Skarsgård.

What’s most interesting about “Nine Days” is how it manages to exist on a small and large scale simultaneously.

The entire movie takes place in either Will’s house or the empty expansive desert outside. Still, we take several detours to the television sets that show us snippets of different people’s walks of life.

A concert violinist, a bullied teenager and a young woman preparing for her wedding, to name a few. It’s these journeys, however brief they may be, into the lives of this eclectic group of people that make this movie something special.

I’ve focused mainly on the premise and setup but not much on the plot, and that’s intentional.

A deeper story is told in “Nine Days,” a good one, but when I left the theater I wasn’t thinking about the mystery that Will was trying to unravel. I was thinking about the little moments.

Kyo telling the group a disgusting story about vomit, Emma (Beetz) trying to offer Will a peach, Kane (Skarsgård) grappling with the concept of pride and Alex (Hale) becoming obsessed with parties and barbecues.

These moments add up to more than the sum of their parts and make you feel like you’re living alongside these characters throughout their nine-day interview process.

This movie makes a strong case for life being about the journey, not the destination.

As I mentioned before, there’s a bit of a mystery that makes up a big part of the plot, but I found myself caring less and less as I fell in love with these richly drawn and amazingly acted characters.

Winston Duke, in particular, is fantastic in this movie as a stoic who must eventually reckon with and acknowledge the deep well of emotion he’s been ignoring.

I’m often afraid to consume existential movies or stories that deal with what comes before and after our time on Earth. However, “Nine Days” is a sad, funny, scary, but mostly beautiful reminder that none of that matters as long as you can teach yourself to enjoy the ride.

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