Michael Coles / Sony Pictures Classics
In the cinematographic head-trip Nine days, Winston Duke plays an otherworldly bureaucrat whose job it is to audition new souls for “life’s incredible opportunity.”
He’s pretty good at it until an auditioning soul (Zazie Beetz) starts asking questions that make him wonder if he really remembers what’s so amazing about this opportunity.
You could easily spend nine days shooting Nine days apart from the pieces of Plato, Sartre and Walt Whitman in his philosophy. But the film – a reminder to celebrate every moment given to you – isn’t just a head trip. He has fun with practical details, from the construction of sets that evoke emotions to all the magic of cinema. And there are touches of Being John Malkovich in his execution (which may be why the director of this film, Spike Jonze, signed on as a producer).
Rookie filmmaker Edson Oda is clearly a fan of all things meta – metaphysical and metaphorical, in particular – a trait that has proven useful for many Hollywood storytellers, creators of television. The right place up to Frank Capra and It’s a wonderful life.
Here are three that share Oda’s concern for existential bureaucracy, and that match her ability to make you see and appreciate the joys of everyday life.
Pixar’s animated story of a realm where souls are associated with bodies – less a “beyond” than a “before” – shares some key plot notions with Nine days. But he goes in decidedly jazzy directions to tell the story of Joe (Jamie Foxx), a college music teacher whose dreams of celebrity in music clubs don’t quite go as he expected, and 22 (Tina Fey), a stubbornly life-resistant ectoplasm that helps her understand what it means to have a soul.
After Life (1999)
You emerge from a white light and you are asked to choose a memory, only one, from your life. A film will be made to piece together this memory, and you will take it with you into eternity, forgetting everything else. This is the premise of Hirokazu (Shoplifters) Kore-eda’s drama, which mixes the practical issues of an otherworldly staff who create these films – scriptwriting, setting construction, creating effects – with a push towards the new dead (and the public) for them to think about eternal questions: why are we here, what makes us happy. Delicate, simple, resonant, this is a good example of why Kore-eda is considered one of the great humanists of cinema.
Defend Your Life (1991)
After dying in his brand new BMW a few minutes after driving it out of the dealership parking lot, Albert Brooks wakes up in Judgment City, a sort of heavenly gas station where he has the opportunity to defend his way of life. Win his case and he can move on; lose, and he will reincarnate for another ride on earth, possibly as a horse. There’s a defense attorney (Rip Torn), a prosecutor (Lee Grant), a romantic interest who definitely earned the right to move on (Meryl Streep), and a cafeteria where the food is delicious, and he can eat as much as he wants because nothing has calories. Of course, sounds like heaven.