When New York psychiatrist Sam Foster fills in for a mysteriously ill friend, he inherits art student Henry Lethem, an apparently paranoid and delusional young patient who bluntly confesses his plans to commit suicide in three days on his 21st birthday. Sam lives with and hopes to marry a former patient named Lila, a college art professor he once saved from a suicide attempt. He immediately takes Henry’s threat seriously.
But Henry proves to be as elusive as he is resolved. As Sam desperately searches for the young man and clues to his past, he begins to sense a strange connection to Henry. Henry seems able to predict Sam’s future. And he claims his parents are dead and that he’s responsible, although Sam uncovers evidence to the contrary.
Lila urges Sam to keep reaching out to Henry, even though Sam is beginning to wonder if maybe he’s the one who is delusional. The closer Sam gets to Henry’s secrets—and the moment of Henry’s planned suicide—the more Sam and those around him seem to lose their grip on reality.
Sam deeply cares both for Lila, whom he loves, and for Henry. He doggedly risks his health and wellbeing in his ongoing attempts to save Henry from killing himself. Lila also sacrifices herself in attempts to help both Sam and Henry. Out of her own experience with attempted suicide, she urges Sam to tell Henry “there’s too much beauty to quit.” In fact, Stay’s strongest message is that life is worth hanging on to.
One of the key questions of the film is whether something supernatural is happening, or whether what unfolds represents some kind of psychological delusion. Or whether it’s something else entirely. The film doesn’t, in the end, necessarily make any definitive statements about the supernatural or spiritual worlds. Whatever is going on, Henry is convinced he’s going to hell for his involvement in his parents’ death, as well as for the suicide he’s planning.
Sam and Lila live together. In one scene, he tells her to take off her clothes; in another, he suggests taking a bath together. Interestingly—especially considering the movie's R rating—nothing sexual is ever shown between them.
A despondent Henry ducks into a “Peep-o-Rama.” While he weeps as images of his life flicker on a screen on the wall, he’s oblivious to the two women dancing in bikini-style outfits, one with a pole, another with a sheet, as other patrons look on.
An artistically realized car accident, that may or may not be real, results in burning wreckage. Traumatized and bloodied bodies, both living and dead, are briefly witnessed. In other scenes, two apparently unharmed people suddenly drip blood from unseen head wounds. A dog bites a man’s arm, requiring bandages and shots. When confronted by an angry passenger on the subway to put out his cigarette, Henry extinguishes it on his own arm.
Henry carries a gun in preparation for his suicide and once threatens Sam with it when the doctor won’t let Henry go. We see three deep scars on Lila’s wrists, and she describes her suicide attempt in some detail. Later, a suicide scene is shown in which Henry puts the gun in his mouth (but the camera looks away before he pulls the trigger, leaving doubt as to what happens next).
Crude or Profane Language
The f-word is heard 15-20 times, and the s-word is uttered close to a dozen times. Characters also use the names of God and Jesus for swearing 5-10 times. There are several milder profanities.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Sam and Lila drink at home. Lila, especially, seems to drink to deal with stress. Sam is concerned when he learns she’s not taking her antidepressants. Another character suffers the effects of combining alcohol with meds. Men drink in a bar.
Other Negative Elements
As another psychiatrist points out, Sam’s relationship with Lila, a former patient, is a violation of professional ethics.
The previews for Stay don’t even begin to hint at what this movie is really about, leaving the impression that it might just be another ghostly horror movie. And that misdirection may actually help, oddly enough, the film's word-of-mouth marketing, since this is the kind of story that seems to work best when the viewer has no idea what’s going on.
Stay is a trippy, sad, disorienting film that uses its unexpectedly moving and satisfying ending to snap the whole thing into focus, leaving moviegoers replaying scene after scene in their heads to fit it all together. Director Marc Forster (who has helmed movies as diverse as Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland) succeeds in creating a reality that often feels like a dream without letting the audience fully release the possibility that it might be something else entirely. It’s one of those movies where you always suspect that every detail passing by is significant, even as you’re baffled about where the story is headed. Using a muted visual palette, cool transitions that bleed one scene into another, and pitch-perfect performances from his actors, Forster’s artful, creepy, self-conscious storytelling is mesmerizing to watch.
The spell is broken, though, with obscenities and intense depictions and descriptions of suicide. The ending works against the film in a way, also. Although Stay raises worthwhile questions about life and death and beauty and art, the conclusion lessens the impact of those questions. How hard should we fight to hold on to life? Is the suffering worth the effort to live? Is there a next life? Are we accountable for our choices in this one? The final moments of screenwriter David Benioff’s imaginative script elevate the experimental nature of the film above the significance of its themes, rendering them mostly ambiguous. Aside from emphasizing the beauty and sadness of life, Stay’s ending truncates most of its hints at real answers.