Best Films of 2021
#7 – Nine Days
Nine Days, the feature length debut by writer-director Edson Oda, is one of the most promising introductions to a new filmmaker I’ve seen in years.
Set in a mundane purgatory where arbiters decide which souls can go on to inhabit human bodies, this film has the profundity of Pixar’s Soul minus the silly business with the cat.
Winston Duke plays Will, one of those arbiters, a sensitive and fastidious man who takes his charge seriously. He is shaken when one of the humans under his observation dies unexpectedly, and he is tasked with assigning a new soul in her place. That selection process takes the titular nine days, during which he interviews a selection of potential humans to determine their worthiness.
Among the candidates is Emma (Zazie Beetz), a curious and empathetic woman who seems less concerned with making the cut than she is with the process itself.
I loved this film’s lo-fi aesthetic (Will uses VHS tapes and old TVs to track the lives of his humans) and sparse setting. It might not look anything like what I’d imagine such a place to resemble, but it immediately feels exactly right.
I already sang Duke’s praises in my post about my person Best Actor nominees. But I was just as thrilled to see Atlanta’s Beetz given a meaty film role (she also dazzled in last year’s The Harder They Fall).
Nine Days is one of those movies that strives to be about nothing less than the meaning of life, and it is remarkably effective on that front. What sort of soul “deserves” a spot on Earth, and is Earth the sort of place a decent soul wants to inhabit, anyway?
In light of his recent loss, Will isn’t sure who he should burden with the responsibility of life. But isn’t a life with no guarantee of happiness still a gift?
Nine Days asks big questions, but it works so well because of small moments. I hope more people discover this special film.