Filmmaker Edson Oda has made a new movie about the gift of life. “Nine Days” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and is captivating audiences in its current theatrical release.
“When we go through times of struggle, it’s easy to create these blind spots where we can’t enjoy or see what’s in front of us,” Oda says. “I thought, what if there’s this world where souls are competing to have the privilege of being where you are right now?”
The film follows Will (Winston Duke), a celestial being who is responsible for choosing the next human soul that will have a chance at life. Before a soul is permitted to enter the earth, they must undergo a rigorous process where they weigh in on what-if scenarios and answer Will’s probing interview questions. Once Will chooses a soul, he loads VHS tapes of their lives, meticulously documenting their experiences.
The candidates are an eclectic bunch: the cunning Alexander (Tony Hale), the innocent and gentle Mike (David Rysdahl), the mild-mannered Maria (Arianna Ortiz), a pragmatic Kane (Bill Skarsgård) and the live-in-the-moment Emma (Zazie Beetz). Each individual, with their own unique personalities, perspectives and attitudes, has nine days to earn a shot at life. If they fail, they simply fade into the abyss.
Although it’s not a faith-based film and is rated R for language, “Nine Days” grapples with spiritual themes and existential philosophies. While it never explicitly mentions God, the film examines questions surrounding his goodness in light of the inevitability of death, loss and the reality of suffering. More explicitly, it highlights how humans were created with a longing to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Oda, a self-described “extremely spiritual” person who was raised Catholic, said he wants “Nine Days” to resonate with viewers of all religious backgrounds.
“I have a strong spirituality and a religious background, so the movie is, of course, spiritual,” he said. “But I want people to watch this movie and understand it through their own values and beliefs. The whole premise of the movie is life is a gift and it’s precious.”
“The connection with faith in terms of redemption and then later when Samuel Jackson’s character, I think about that all the time,” Oda says.
“Nine Days” initially premiered at Sundance back in January 2020, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Billions across the globe were, and are, faced with the reality of their own mortality. It was during that time that Oda acknowledged the unexpected timeliness of the film.
“It was an interesting coincidence,” he said. “During the pandemic, people started asking questions about life, trying to understand what was happening in times of isolation. They essentially went through what Will goes through in the movie, and so I think it allowed them to empathize with more of the characters.”
Themes or questions of faith don’t often make it into secular films. Maybe that’s why the film is turning heads and receiving universal praise of both secular and faith critics.
Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge described “Nine Days” in an August 10 article as a film of “dizzying conceptual ambition,” writing: “At the risk of overselling [Oda’s] ultra-original, meaning-of-life directorial debut, there’s a big difference between ‘Nine Days’ and pretty much every other film ever made.”
Brian Tallerico, with Rogerebert.com stated, “Edson Oda’s ‘Nine Days’ is one of the most unexpected experiences I’ve had in almost a decade of going to Sundance.”
The popular faith website faithspotting.com writes that “the film presents a foundational and stark choice among people of faith, to live through the struggles and darkness of life with Paul’s “Rejoice in the Lord Always” spirit from Philippians 4, or the worldly spirit that sees darkness overcoming the Light that is Christ and the hope of the Gospel. What are the costs of each perspective?
Filmgoers have also been offering online praise for the film.
Nic Fiocca writes on LetterBoard.com “The first handful of scenes had me nearly groaning in anticipation of a pretentious attempt at some profound analysis of life. Such reservations could easily have tainted the rest of the movie, but it eventually worked me over. I was swept up by the emotion of the latter portions of the film, and found it genuinely beautiful and moving at times.”
“It was so heartwarming. After the premiere, I was just walking in the streets and some people stopped me and said, ‘Can I give you a hug?’” Oda recalls. “I’ve also gotten emails from people who are going through issues, problems, traumas and loss, and they’ve shared how this movie speaks to them.”
“I think because I was vulnerable through my film, people are motivated to be vulnerable as well and share things with me,” he added. “That’s the best reward of making movies like this: having people tell me how much it means to them and how it’s connected to something they’ve gone through in their lives.”
“Nine Days” was released in New York and Los Angeles theaters on July 30, followed by a nationwide rollout on August 6. You’ll have to look hard. Not all theaters are picking this gem up.
–Dwight Widaman with Anita Widaman | Metro Voice