Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stay (Spoiler Warning)

The following should only partially be considered a movie review. It should only partially be considered a recommendation. This "article", if you will, should more just be considered my personal reflections and thoughts on the film. You should probably only read on if you've actually seen the film or have absolutely no interest in seeing it. If you want a non-spoiling review I suggest you check out

Stay is a movie that deserves some thought and perhaps a second or third viewing (and not because it's as confusing as Mulhullond Dr.). Also, I would like to say that this movie is not a supernatural thriller as it's billed as. It can be best described as a abstract examination of the human psyche.

I hesitate to say that this film has a "secret", though I suppose that is one way of looking at it. It's secret only lies in the over-all nature of the events transpiring and why they are transpiring in the way that they are. Of course there are a few instances where it was probably unneeded to give us "clues", such as when Henry accurately predicts Sam's fortune cookie message. At first this film lets on that this is a dual identity thing; you know, when two characters are actually one in the same due to some sort of split personality disorder. As it turns out though, this isn't the case. Sam is very much a psychiatrist (at least from Henry's point of view) and Henry most likely actually is an art student (but perhaps not as good of one as he perceives).

For those of you who haven't seen the film and have chosen to read on, the big mystery of the movie is that Henry is dying, but not in the sense that he is sick. You see, early in the movie Henry tells Sam (his psychiatrist) that he is going to kill himself on Saturday at midnight. The big question then becomes "Why that time?". And the answer is because that was the exact time he was left dying. No, Henry is not a ghost and in all likelihood he didn't survive. Henry is lying on the cement on the Brooklyn Bridge battered and dying after a tire on his car carrying his girlfriend and parents blows out and causes a fatal crash. Sam and woman he doesn't know yet come to the rescue. As Sam seems to be a doctor they do the usual first aid type stuff; prop his head up, check his vitals etc etc. Henry's eyes are open looking at Sam and the Woman and he begins to perceive the events that just occurred in a different manner. This is where the movie actually begins (you of course don't know he's dreaming/hallucinating till the end) He imagines himself walking away from the burning car. He imagines that it was his fault his parents are dead. He imagines that his girlfriend wasn't really in the car and she wasn't his girlfriend at all; just some waitress that was nice to him and he was going to ask to marry. I suspect this last part is a bit more about denial than the rest of it. He imagines that Sam is hit doctor and that the woman is Sam's girlfriend.

Of course because this is a dream, the logic off it all isn't always consistent. Henry meets a blind man named Leon that he swears is his dead father. Sam meets a woman that he swears his Henry's mother even though the local sheriff has told him that she tied 6 months previous. Things happen in repetition (Sam sees a boy lose the same balloon in the same place at the same time a few days later). As the film progresses, these inconsistencies happen more intensify until Saturday at midnight on the Brooklyn bridge. Here we see Sam trying to stop Henry from killing him self and the background is losing it's hold on the setting. At this point Henry figures out whats going on and says "I'm already dead, this is a dream" to which Henry replies "If this is a dream than the whole world is in it". His unconscious is still wrestling with the reality, though the truth seems to be winning now. He puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger.

Now, we cut to Henry in the cement, and we at last learn the true nature of the events. These events are not significant because it was some shock that it was "all just a dream". In fact, the story probably still would have worked had we been told this up front. The events that occur in Henry's dream state are significant because they are a study on someone's last minutes of life. Of course we usually can't know what someone's thinking right before they die from a trauma. If the person somehow survives the incident they typically don't remember what actually happened let alone what they were thinking about or dreaming. That's why this film is worth thinking about. It examined Henry's perception of himself and the perception of the car accident. Blaming himself, being a great artist, Sam the doctor, and so on. Don't let me forget the most interesting part of his dreamstate; his empty apartment with the words "Forgive me" written on the walls thousands of times in tiny handwriting.

The most remarkable technical aspect of the film is the cinematography. Not only are the shots themselves beautiful, but the scene transitions doubly so. These transitions give clues to the nature of the movie, or if you already know the nature of the movie, they allows us to understand Henry's dream-logic process. Something in the background of one scene becomes something in the foreground of another. At one point Henry enters into a room at the end of one scene, and the beginning the of the next is him entering a completely different room. The room he goes into happens to be the viewing room of a tank at an aquarium. At first glimpse we get the impression that he just stepped underwater. There are way too many to point out, and I'm going to need to view it a couple more times to pick up on all of the subtle ones.

Make no mistake, this is a tragic film about dying. This movie is far more tragic than one about a cancer patient laying on his deathbed (though the film "Northfork" sort of combines these two ideas). If you haven't seen it, watch it once and just sort of let it wash over you. If you have seen it and didn't like it, I hope my thoughts on the film will put the elements you didn't like into a new light.


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