The Nines (2007)
JTH and I viewed The Nines last Sunday while we were engaged in some spring cleaning. We watched the movie because we are both fans of the film’s star Ryan Reynolds (in a completely heterosexual way) . We quickly realized that this metaphysical film was not best viewed while multitasking. Thus, I watched the film again later in the week.
The Nines is the pet project of writer/director John August. He is a highly respected screenwriter, scripting films such as Go (1999) Big Fish (2003), and Corpse Bride (2005). This was his directorial debut. August wanted the film to be seen so badly they he alerted potential viewers where they could download the film illegally online.
Unfortunately for him, few people saw his movie in theaters. The movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, was released on August 31, 2007, but was only shown in Los Angeles, New York and Austin. It was released on DVD on January 29, 2008.
Despite its limited release, it turned a profit as it had a miniscule budget and as such little incentive for the studio to push it. The movie had virtually no publicity and was shot very quickly - 22 days in Los Angeles and two days in New York. Much of the film was shot in John August's own house.
The movie is difficult to detail without spoilers and I will not try. If you do not want any spoilers, stop reading now.
The Nines is self-consciously presented in three acts - "The Prisoner," "Reality Television" and "Knowing" with titles in between each to denote a new section. The cast is the same in each part and Ryan Reynolds is present throughout. Reynolds plays 1. Gary, a dense and destructive actor who is under house arrest, 2. Gavin, a gay screenwriter trying to get his television pilot picked up by a network, and 3. Gabriel, an acclaimed video game designer, stuck in the woods with his wife and daughter due to car trouble.
The script provides Reynolds a departure from his typical comedic fare and allows him to showcase his versatility. He seems to be breaking free from typecasting that resulted from films such as Van Wilder and Waiting. He also played against type in another 2007 movie, Smokin’ Aces. In The Nines, he portrays three diverse characters without resorting to acting ploys and seamlessly transitions between roles. He is believable in each incarnation.
There are nine roles (three actors in three shorts) in the film. The other two actors are the unconventional female leads Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy. Both are excellent in their roles. In each segment, McCarthy clings to Reynolds while Davis tries to pull Reynolds away from her, often incorporating the phrase "Look for the Nines." McCarthy has long collaborated with August, acting in his scripts for the features Charlie's Angels and Go, the short film God and the short-lived television series "D.C.."
Elle Fanning (Dakota's near clone little sister) is also excellent playing the mute Noelle, who habitually appears trying to communicate truth to Reynolds through sign language. Fanning’s character was written as mute due to August’s apprehensiveness of child actors. She was originally written only in the third act, which was filmed first. August was so pleased with Fanning that he reincorporated her into the other plots.
The first act features Reynolds as the star of the television show "Crim9 Lab." Dejected due to an ended romance, he inadvertently burns his house down while attempting to burn his lover's possessions. The segment introduces the dynamics between the actors. The camera never moves except when Hope Davis is on screen, demonstrating the unsettling effect she has. Davis also inexplicably breaks the fourth wall in the first act, singing Peggy Lee (1920-2002)'s staple "Is That All There Is?"
Melissa McCarthy reprises her role as Margaret from a John August short film “God” which is included on the DVD release.
In a trivial note, the house that Reynolds burns down is that of Dodgeball writer/director Rawson Thurber who was once an assistant of August's and later appears in a cameo as himself.
The second act, "Reality television", is highly autobiographical. Reynolds unabashedly plays the character "Gavin" as John August himself, mimicking both his voice and mannerisms. The relationships Gavin has with each person is the same as August has with them in reality. August’s own house even served as the set and he provides the voice of the cameraman asking the questions. The segment is based upon his experiences with the television show "D.C." (2000) in general and specifically with his recasting of Mia Kirshner. A large part of the second part was unscripted with dialogue being improvised by the actors.
Melissa McCarthy's role in "Reality Television" further blurs the lines between fact and fiction as she plays a more glamorized version of herself. The character "Melissa McCarthy" leaves her real-life series "Gilmore Girls" to star in Gavin's new show. The segment incorporates other real life aspects of her life such as McCarthy and her real husband Ben Falcone agonizing over buying a house and her really being in the comedy troupe Groundlings. The coffee shop where McCarthy is fired in the film is the same Burbank restaurant that August informed her he had written the role for her three years prior to filming.
The third installment is the pilot from the scene before. It tries to connect the first two sequences in an essential way. In it, Reynolds plays a world renowned video game designer. It is an homage to August’s World of Warcraft addiction. In fact, many have proposed that the entire film is based upon the video game The Sims 2. There is a Sim Logo diamond at the end of the film and a piece of Sims art on the wall (in the dining room shot). Further, the prism floating on top of the people head is a classic Sims 2 trade mark. In the game, green indicates happiness.
Each segment has its own distinct feel as August shot each with different film and color schemes. “The Prisoner” features rich yellows and oranges shot in 16MM. The second act, “Reality Television”, is shot in digital video as a reality television show would be. The third and final chapter is the pilot pitched in the second installment - “Knowing.” It showcases darker blues and greens and was shot in 35MM. The first two acts are insider portraits of Hollywood - first a self-absorbed actor's tale followed by a screenwriter's. The third is located outside after the first is confined and the second emotionally confined.
The three stories intersect and overlap. All the parallel stories cross over, defying both space and time. Each sequence has much in common including alliterative names of the three characters. Each segment also explores the relationships between creators and their creations.
August intentionally deflects the usual suspects for explanations at each turn. The tying of the green string in the title sequence was not in the original script but was added to cue the viewer that Reynolds' character(s) is not insane. At the end of act one, McCarthy questions Reynolds and the possibilities of death, coma, and dream sequence are discarded. At the end of act two, the truth is finally revealed.
Each chapter ends in a way that partially reveals the meaning of the film's title and connects the chapter to the other two. Small clues in each story hint at the idea that Reynolds is the unsuspecting “author” of all three worlds. For 4,000 years he has been creating universes for his amusement. The film portrays only three of the 90 worlds. He becomes addicted to the process all the while becoming so engrossed with each role he's playing in each universe that he forgets that he himself is the creator. At some point, he eliminates the universe and starts another one.
The title of the movie becomes apparent when Sierra informs Gabriel that the universe is hierarchical in nature. Human beings are only 7s, koala bears are 8s (because they control the weather!) and Gabriel is a 9 - an extraterrestrial being in a human incarnation.
His addictiveness to the creations is problematic and has to be coaxed back to his more spiritual realm by three recurring characters who are also nines (Hope Davis, Octavia Spencer, and David Denman). They are trying to intervene and convince him to return to his natural state - a region that is warm and full of light and indescribable using human words or thoughts.
The movie concludes with an amalgamation of the three scenes which McCarthy's character classifies as "the best of all possible worlds." McCarthy's character's name is now Mommy and as such the viewer does not know which incarnation was the best. Her child, Noelle, can speak in this world. The ending is anticlimactic and too happy. It was not the original ending from the script.
While I totally disagree with the film’s metaphysical and existential worldview, I appreciate the film for what it is. It attempts to merges indie realism with metaphysical surrealism to form an existential piece, characterized by the question "Is that all there is?" It might also be classified as "metafiction." The movie explores philosophy, metaphysical multi-dimensional theory, simulated reality, ect.
It makes a bold statement against addiction, particularly getting wrapped up in a creative canvas, such as a video game. It also takes well-aimed pot shots at reality television and Parade magazine.
I also appreciate my God and savior more by comparison. Here are some of theological thoughts:
- The film's three principle actors all have characters who begin with the names G (Reynolds), S (Davis), and M(McCarthy). This perhaps represents God, Satan, and Man.
- While Reynolds' character is a 9, the movie leaves open the possibility of a theoretical ten that may or may not exist. Humans rate a seven on the same scale. Spinoza (1632-1677) developed the concept of the hierarchical representation of nature of the "beings" from eternal and infinite to finite. This in and of itself is not contrary to the Bible. The Psalmist states the obvious that man is lower than God (Psalm 8:5), which Hebrews interprets as "angels." (Hebrews 2:7) Jesus himself says that humans are more valuable than sparrows (Matthew 10:31), sheep (Matthew 12:12), and birds (Luke 12:24). The problem in the film is that humanity should not be even remotely close to God on any scale. In the words of John Bertram Phillips (1906-1982), "Your God is too small."
- Naturally John August’s God incarnate resembles himself. This is no more surprising than Mel Gibson’ Jesus being an action hero. People often envision God in the image of the best traits they like about themselves.
- Like the leading character in the film, my God exists in Trinitarian form, but all in the same universe at the same time.
- My God came to earth for love, but not of just one but of all (Romans 2:11), and not for his own benefits.
- Has anyone else notices this movie has the God figure on crack?
- The movie addresses Joan Obsourne's lyrical question "What if God was one of us?" The God of the film is as flawed as any viewer, an experience-junkie who leaves humanity to its own fate. My God came and died for my sins to prevent such a thing.
- The film also addresses the dilemma of a perfect God creating an imperfect world. The phrase "the best of all possible worlds" enters the film through Voltaire's Candide. Voltaire (1694-1778) was merely parodying Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). Leibniz coined the expression (French: le meilleur des mondes possibles) in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal. It is the central argument in Leibniz's theodicy, or his attempt to solve the problem of evil.
- In the film, the “best of all possible worlds” comes when the God figure leaves. John August explains, “To create a compelling world, an author must enter into the world of his story. But for that story to thrive, he must eventually leave it. This is the only way to create the best of all possible worlds." In the best of all worlds, we have the Holy Spirit with us continually as our disposal.
- The movie also asks if ours is the only world ever created. C.I. Scofield (1843-1921) popularized what is known as Gap Theory - a gap between creations in Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. The gap theory speculates that an indefinite span of time exists between the two verses. This time span is usually considered to be massive (millions of years) which could account for “geologic ages.” Supporters of this theory also postulate that a cataclysmic judgment was pronounced upon the earth during this period as the result of the fall of Lucifer (Satan) and that the ensuing verses of Genesis chapter 1 describe a re-creation or reforming of the earth from a chaotic state and not an initial creative effort on the part of God.
- Unlike Christianity, the film is somewhat polytheistic as there are multiple nines.
- The Gnostic undertones ("Knowing" is featured in all three pieces) also make this a film that most orthodox Christians would consider blasphemous.
The Nines is rated R for some drug content, language and a brief bit of (non-graphic) sexuality. It naturally runs 99 minutes. The film is structured to be viewed in a loop. Unfortunately, few viewers will be enthralled with the first viewing enough to rewatch the film. The hybrid may find it difficult finding an audience as well. This being said, I enjoyed the thought-provoking film.
Current IMDB rating: 6.8/10. Chanalysis: 7/10.