They come alone.
Questioning, confused, but with sudden purpose, they walk across the sand, to the lonely house and the lonely man inside.
Will opens the door for each in turn. He gives each a name, offers each a cup of tea. How old are you? He asks. Some don’t know. Some are aware that they’ve been alive for, oh, a few hours perhaps.
Alive, they say. And yet, they don’t live. Not really. That’s why they’re here, after all—to have a chance at life. To be born, to breathe, to strive, to fail, to love, to die.
Old televisions fill Will’s living room, stacked one on the other—flickering building blocks chronicling meals and marriages, business meetings and bar fights. When he selects someone to live, Will watches them on one of these screens. Or rather, he watches what they watch; their own eyes serving as cameras, their ears microphones. Will sees their lives unfold moment by moment, from beginning to end.
But one screen stands static, bars of unmoving color stamped across the glass. The life that had filled that screen is gone.
Will must fill that vacant screen with a new life, new promise. He hopes to avoid the mistakes he made with (Amanda) the life that came before, a life snuffed like a candle. Gone with a shock, gone too soon.
And so, Will asks questions of the applicants who come to his door. What would you do with the gift of life? How could you spend your seconds? Are you willing to risk? To kill? To die? To live?
There are no wrong answers, he reassures, but Will measures each answer in turn, judging the worthiness of these applicant souls. For nine days, he questions. For nine days, they answer—if they’re good. If they’re lucky.
One will receive life; real life. The others will end before they begin. But perhaps not all will have been in vain. Perhaps they need not end alone.
“As you know, you are being considered for the amazing opportunity of life,” Will tells his applicants when they first meet. And as the film goes on, we see what an amazing opportunity it is.
Nine Days is, at least in part, reminding us that life is indeed a gift—one filled with myriad challenges and tragedies, but one filled with a million billion beauties, too. Will’s applicants spend much of their days watching Will’s TVs—getting a taste of what real life would entail.
Alas, only one will make the final cut. For the rest, it is the end. But Will does what he can to make the end bearable and, perhaps, memorable—even as his applicants enter the void.
When applicants fall out of the competition, Will asks them to write down a memory they watched—something they loved and would like to experience. He promises he’ll do his best to re-create that moment for them before they leave. And so he does—building gigantic screens and creating tiny moments (with his sometime coworker Kyo) that his applicants can carry with them into oblivion. Kyo, who works with many interviewers, says that Will’s unique in this: No one works as hard to make his applicants’ passing pleasant and meaningful. We see him make small, kindly gestures to those applicants during the process, too.
[Spoiler Warning] But Will is no omniscient judge: He, in his own way, feels very mortal and fallible, and his own weaknesses influence how he judges those in his care. Moreover, he was once alive—truly alive—and his time as a living soul seems filled with regret, so much so that he never wants to experience a taste of what he offers to his own applicants. If those applicants are trying to escape this semi-dead state of limbo, Will is himself in need of a bit of salvation. And, with a little help, he finds it.
Nine Days is inherently spiritual—taking place entirely on what you could call a metaphysical plane. But it’s not a very Christian plane, nor does it reflect any other organized religion that I’m aware of. And if I had to hazard a guess as to what the creators wanted to convey, it’s that this life might be the only life we get: Better enjoy it.
But if we take the story of Nine Days at face value, it presupposes a few important concepts: There is a reality beyond what we can see and touch in this life, and that reality is run by rules and, presumably, a higher power. Will describes himself as a “cog in the wheel”—one of a number of people tasked (by someone or something) to both select people for life and to watch those lives after they’re selected.
The souls we meet here—those competing to live—aren’t immortal. They’re somehow born (perhaps a few hours before they meet Will) and then “die” if they’re not selected.
But that said, there is still the hope of an afterlife of sorts. Will himself once was alive and somehow found himself as this bureaucratic cog afterward.
And it’s important to note that no one we meet here—including Will and Kyo—seem to have the foggiest idea of how things actually work. Might there be a heaven or a hell or a cycle of reincarnation beyond what they see here? Maybe. Kyo even speculates that, just as they watch the living, maybe there are other beings that watch them—and more beings who watch those other beings and so on. “Deep,” he tells himself.
In the televised snippets of life that we see, someone gets married in a priest-officiated wedding.
We see a few kisses on the television screens, which pretty much manifest as just a face getting really, really close to the “camera”. And as mentioned, someone gets married. One of the applicants has a crush on Will, and it’s suggested that she tries to tell him.
We hear about a makeout session gone really horribly wrong (detailed in “other negative elements”) and a twisted form of “love” (detailed in “violent content”). We glimpse a bra-like top on a swimming suit.
Amanda, the woman whose life was snuffed out way before it was time, focuses a lot of the “life” that we see through the television screens with other women—some of them involving ever-so-slightly lingering looks. Nothing else we see on her screen suggests a same-sex attraction, and she and her female companions could, very easily, be just good friends. But it could be the film itself was suggesting a certain romantic tug.
Will twists someone’s arm behind his back. “This is pain,” Will says, “and what you’re feeling now is nothing compared to what they feel when they’re alive.”
That’s the only violence we see from our core characters; everything else is given more distance as images on a screen. But Will’s not wrong. And some of the violence we see—and even violence we only hear about—can feel pretty jarring.
A man is shot by another, and we see the guy (from his own point of view) hold his bleeding stomach and his left leg (which may have started to go numb). Another of Will’s living subjects beats someone in the head with a rock. Another drives a car into a wall. Applicants see that one of Will’s living subjects is a frequent victim of bullying—bullying that sometimes comes with a physical component.
Applicants weigh what they see on screen and are asked what they’d do differently. When one applicant watches the man being shot by another, the applicant says he would’ve shot first. “The moment he moved he’d be dead,” he says. He doesn’t get why the bullied individual never stands up for himself. “I’d hit back,” he says. And when Will asks him if he then condones violence, the applicant says, “It’s not violence if you didn’t start it.” That same applicant is often appalled at the horrors he sees on Will’s TV. He relates one news story he saw there—of a middle school teacher who raped and killed two girls in his class because, he told police, he loved them.
Will is all-too-familiar with the hardness of the real world. He feels like his applicants have to be tough to deal with life, and many of his questions can be brutal. In the first, he tells applicants to imagine that they and their 11-year-old son are in a concentration camp: The guard orders the applicant to kill the son; if he doesn’t, the guard will kill the son, the applicant and everyone else in the camp. Kyo worries that Will emphasizes life’s hardships too much. “You always talk as if you’re sending them off to war,” Kyo tells him. And in a way, that’s what Will believes he’s doing.
There’s a joking reference to someone cutting of his privates with a plastic knife.
[Spoiler Warning] Amanda dies by running her car into a wall, and Will fears that she committed suicide. Those fears, and the theme of suicide itself, form a big part of this story.
We hear perhaps five or six f-words, as well as seven s-words. The word “a–” is used once, and we hear two misuses of God’s name.
One of Will’s applicants invites Will to “call some chicks” and share a beer with him. Will (who has no need of food or drink, nor has any desire to consume them, even though he could) declines at first. But later, he sits down with the applicant and hands him a beer, which the applicant happily drinks. Will also seems to drink—but he never removes the cap from the bottle.
We see some brief glimpses of people drinking—sometimes to apparent excess—on Will’s television screens. We hear a story that involved way too much alcohol (detailed a bit more below).
During a shared dinner, Kyo and two applicants share “disgusting” stories with each other (even though none of the three have ever lived and have therefore learned about these stories second-hand). Kyo talks about two people who were trying to drive home after a long night of partying. One of the characters in Kyo’s story repeatedly vomits in his mouth and then swallows it again, not wanting to soil his friend’s car.
An applicant offers her own story involving a woman and a huge feces that wouldn’t go down the toilet. When her boyfriend wanted to use the toilet, in a panic she grabbed a toothbrush and whittled the offending feces down and away … but then the boyfriend used said toothbrush before he and the woman engaged in a makeout session.
Will keeps his “last wish” efforts secret, conducting them in a secret room. Kyo breaks a few rules for one of the applicants. We hear Kyo talk about how one of the people on Will’s TVs has been “on the toilet now for 25 minutes.”
For all its spiritual underpinnings, Nine Days is a humanistic fable—one trying to puzzle out meaning and fulfilment in a life freighted with pain, and in a life where the prospect of a loving, involved God feels uncertain. In fact, in the movie’s telling, the “afterlife” is a place muted—not dead, but deadened.
We Christians, of course, believe just the opposite: This world is but a mere shadow of the one that is to come—one where the colors are brighter and the songs are more beautiful and reality so vibrant that it can fill and break your heart at once. In that light, some viewers will find Nine Days perspective to be a bit off-putting. The movie’s R rating—almost entirely because of language—is worth a pause, as well.
But for me, Nine Days’ problems can be held in tension with its purpose.
This film asks us questions that it doesn’t necessarily know the answer to. What is beautiful? What gives our lives meaning? What do we treasure? What should we? It encourages us to not miss each day’s beauty, and to seek that beauty wherever and whenever we can. It reminds us of just how good an apricot can taste on a summer’s day, or how the breeze can stroke your hair like a mother, soothing you to sleep.
Will calls life an “amazing opportunity,” and so it is. And this opportunity, like a speculative stock, comes with no guarantees. It’s filled with promise but carries no promises. But the opportunity remains. And God wants us to enjoy the gift He gives us.
That’s what Nine Days tries to remind us of. We live a gift that we should never waste or throw away. Indeed, it’s more than a gift: It’s a responsibility.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.