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Flicks With Nicki – A Movie I Didn’t Know I Needed: Nine Days

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Flicks With Nicki – A Movie I Didn’t Know I Needed: Nine Days

Nicki Salcedo. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Content warning: This review contains a discussion of suicide, depression, and mental health. With warnings, people can be better prepared to read further or choose to forego the content that follows. For a full list of movie reviews on Decaturish, click here

When the lights fade in a movie theater, we have a chance to leave our world behind. It is cool and quiet. On the day I saw “Nine Days,” my family and I were all alone in the darkness of the cinema. An isolated house appeared on the screen and a person started walking toward it. I felt like I was walking too. Director Edson Oda reached out and pulled me along. There was a whisper of a question in the opening scenes.

“Do you want to be born?”

I saw “Nine Days” on the last day of peach season. If you live in Georgia, especially near the end of the season, peaches are sold by the case. That morning there was a knock on my door. A neighbor stood holding a baby in one arm and extending a bag of peaches with the other.

“We thought you might like these,” he said. The child open and closed her hand in hello.

Later another neighbor piled peaches into a brown paper bag for us. If someone offers you a peach, you always say yes. First, you let it ripen. Then, you eat it. Sometimes eating a peach is messy business.

When I got home there were peaches on the table. My husband brought some for me. My rule is this. If you can smell peaches at the market, you should buy them. And he did.

Three gifts of peaches, and then we headed to the movie theater.

“Nine Days” was the last gift given to me at the end of peach season. This was a movie I didn’t know I needed.

The story unfolds untethered from time and space. The time is before. The space is vast and sandy. Mountains loom in the distance creating both shadows and promise. The allegory starts with Will (Winston Duke). He lives in this isolated house. A room is filled with monitors, each representing the real-time events of someone he has chosen for life. When one of those people dies unexpectedly, Will has a vacancy to fill. The prospects show up out of the ether. This is their chance for life.

“I’m just a cog in the wheel,” he offers. He is not omnipotent, good, or evil. He is an interviewer for the prospects and a watcher of the living.

The plot is very simple. People vie for the chance to be born. Each day, some are eliminated. We don’t know where they came from or where they will go. They just are. And then they cease. For those who succeed until the end, the process takes nine days. Kyo (Benedict Wong) is Will’s confidant and observer of the process. Alexander (Tony Hale) is direct and with a twisted sense of humor. Kane (Bill Skarsgård) looks at reality. Maria is a dreamer (Arianna Ortiz) and Mike (David Rysdahl) feels things deeply. Emma (Zazie Beetz) wants to choose her own name.

Will shows videos of life, poses hypothetical questions, and tests each candidate. They are to document, think, respond. The process should be easy, except for the fact that Will is fixated on the one who died most recently. He cannot reconcile the beauty he saw in her life and her death by suicide. Will views this death as his failure. Director Edson Oda was inspired to explore the topic of suicide and grieving after his uncle died by suicide. We see Will’s depression and also his hope.

Are we remembered for the manner of our death? Should we focus on the beautiful moments that happen throughout life? Why should we choose the life Will is offering us when it is filled with pain?

We begin the movie thinking it is about what type of character is worthy of life. As the story progresses, we find that the movie is about recovery and reconciliation. Will watches the death over and over again. How often have we seen someone struggle with depression and not known what to do? What if we missed the warning signs? Are we responsible for the lives that intersect with ours, no matter how wonderful or tragic?

As Will eliminates the souls from consideration, he asks them to write down what they remember best or loved most from the lives they’ve witnessed. One character writes down a word, then scribbles it out. We see that even before life, love and loss are possible.

Will also offers each soul a final chance to experience a moment of their choosing that he will recreate. They all are worthy, even as they fade away. We see ourselves in each. I am Kane and Maria. I am often Alexander and bits of Mike. Pragmatic, romantic, hopeful, and jaded. All the while, we watch the unbidden energy and curiosity of Emma. They all are untethered to the bonds of time and space, and Emma is less so. Time does not matter to her. She arrives late one night.

“What are you doing?” Will asks. He does not fully open the door. Her lateness frustrates him.

“Eating a peach,” she says and offers him some, but he closes the door.

At home, I knew that two dozen peaches were waiting for me. I felt my eyes fill with tears.

Do you want to live? The heart of Will’s despair is when the answer is no.

“Nine Days” is a quiet, strange story. At times, I felt hypnotized, almost sleepy. Not from boredom, but an overwhelming sense of peace. Winston Duke created that peace and culminated the story with a burst of power. He shows a depression and grief we understand. The actors play off of each other in authentic ways. Wong and Duke are calm compliments of each other. Hale and Skarsgård are different sides of bitterness. Ortiz and Rysdahl are sweetness. Beetz asks all the questions we’ve never voiced. The film is a great convergence of cinematography, script, and acting. Quiet without being cloying. I absolutely needed this movie. I will see it again. When the story ended and lights came up, it felt like I was being born.

At home, I look around for my favorite things. I enjoy a peach. “Nine Days” reminds me that life is not supposed to be perfect. It is as messy and sweet as this fruit.

“Do they remember you?” a soul asks Will.

“No,” he says.

We know the answer is yes. Grade A

Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom.

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