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With the ongoing talk about death, have you ever asked yourself why you deserve to live? In the beautifully rendered independent film NINE DAYS, writer-director Edson Oda delves into the meaning of life. The basic premise is that Will, a soul who has retreated from living, is tasked with selecting an unborn soul to fill a vacancy on earth. With the assistance of the empathetic unborn soul Kyo, he interviews candidates who have nine days of life with him to win the cherished position or be terminated. The diverse candidates have access to TV monitors that reveal a minute-by-minute view of former winners as they progress on earth. Meanwhile, Will submits the prospects to a series of theoretical situations, looking for qualities in their responses that he himself can’t be sure are important. His most successful protégé, who grew to become a gifted young violinist, has just killed herself. He is filled with angst and self-recrimination.
Will’s choices are not what we expect from someone akin to being an angel. His perspective is jaundiced by what he judges to be his own life failure. He has convinced himself that to live successfully a person must be tough and probably aggressive. One candidate promises he’ll “play the game” any way Will wants it. How many of us were raised to believe that kind of conformist competition is precisely what identifies a life well lived? How many innocent souls are trampled in the melee?
We as audience members can’t help but identify with traits we see in certain candidates. We see how fiercely all the souls in the running yearn for a chance to see what they can do with life. We mourn for those not chosen as we mourn for real lives cut short. The smallest experiences of life are suddenly profound for them—a beach, a bike ride, a family picnic. One candidate, Emma, focuses on happy, beautiful moments, laughter and sensation. When she’s asked to tell why one of her competitors doesn’t deserve to live, she walks out. She has no interest in negativity. We ask ourselves what we’ll recall as our most precious memory when the end of life draws near.
When we’re told love is the meaning of life, we aren’t referring merely to romance but to love of the panoply of humankind, love of animals and sunrises and snowflakes, of being brave and afraid and curious—love of being alive. NINE DAYS reminds us that life is created in our perception. Being alive requires focus. You need to believe in yourself as worthy regardless of the difficulties.