The Nines Worth a Video Watch

THE NINES (2007; video release 2012)
Directed and written by John August
Destination Films, 100 minutes, R (language)
* * *

The concept of the great chain of being is Platonic in origin, but proved so attractive that it became a basis of Christian ontology. In its simplest form, the great chain of being divides all things into an ascending hierarchy. Religions generally place God outside of the reality pyramid and humans at the top of the created order. John August’s clever film­–recently released on DVD–begins with perplexing premises. What if the great chain is wrong? What if God is a ten and humans a mere seven on the creation scale? What if there are some nines floating about the world, beings with the power to create, manipulate, and destroy? What if one of them suffers from supernatural amnesia and doesn’t realize the games he’s been playing? And what if the best we sevens–I won’t spoil the identity of the eights–can aspire to is a Candide-like hope that all things will turn out for the best in this best of all possible worlds?

The Nines uses the theme of “knowing” to probe the various scenarios a nine could unleash. The film takes place in three acts, “The Prisoner,” “Reality Television,” and “Knowing,” with Ryan Reynolds the lead actor in each scenario (and several minor roles as well). He plays, variously, a famous but psychologically unhinged actor that has run afoul of the law (think Robert Downey Jr.); an ambitious TV script writer trying to get his show produced; and an ordinary family man who designs video games. Each act is a triad between Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, and Hope Davis, with McCarthy variously serving as Reynolds’ agent, best friend, and wife; and Davis as temptress, Machiavellian nemesis, and guide. Elle Fanning also appears in each act, twice as a mysterious mute and once as Reynolds’ daughter. You’ll also see personalities such as Octavia Spencer, Dahlia Salem, David Denman, and Ben Falcone in cameos.

The central dilemma of the film is whether Reynolds will become aware that he has, in essence, become the lead player in his own video game. It’s a relentlessly weird film that falls through the genre cracks–it’s part psychological drama, part science fiction, part tongue-in-cheek spoof of belief systems, part mystery, and part rom-com, yet it’s none of these. It mainly plays like one of those odd Neil Gaiman stories where Olympian gods live in the world and hold down ordinary jobs. The film certainly challenges viewers and did next to nothing at the box office–just $63,000 in the U.S. market and only $131,000 worldwide. I guess audiences don’t want to pay for ambiguity, but I found it a fascinating way to spend a hundred minutes. Who are the nines? Are they angels and demons, Olympian gods, the Greek Demiurge, or something like Star Trek’s Q-Continuum? You take a look and get back to me!

Rob Weir

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