I just watched a really, really good movie called Stay. You all should know what sort of movies I like based on what sort of books I read and what sort of stories I write: I like wankery. Sorry, but it’s true. Movies that give my mind a good shake and leave more questions than they answer. Even The Sixth Sense in its suprise ending but more importantly the foreshadowing that accompanies the ending.
But I also like movies with style. Multi-layered films with texture and subtlety: stories that use the medium they inhabit to tell the story as much as the script and actors themselves do. The Matrix did this with its symbology and cinemography.
Beware that if you continue reading this, I present spoilers galore. If you’ve watched the film already, you’ll probably come out with a better understanding of what’s actually going on. If you haven’t, the story will probably be subsumed in your attention to detail while viewing it.
First off, the entire movie happens as the protagonist is prostrate beside a burning vehicle in which his mother, father, and fiance have all perished; he himself is mortally wounded. Most of the film is the story of him choosing whether or not – as he lies there on the pavement – to live, or to die. It is secondarily concerned with his guilt over killing his family (though it’s not his fault).
The film, every bit of it, takes place in that limbo: the traditional life-flashing-before-your-eyes moment before you actually kick the bucket. But instead of seeing his life – although you will see his life in various places throughout the film – he halucinates, dreams, whatever you want to call it, melding things he sees before going unconscious and the important people in his life.
His psychiatrist, for instance, is the doctor who stands over him on the road; the doctor’s girlfriend in the dream is a nurse who he works with.
Throughout the film, you’ll notice the odd transition between segments: they blend into eachother un-naturally, they cut and weave, and as the film progresses, they become more eratic and disturbing. Audio elements start intruding on the narrative in places, like when the psychiatrist visits the young man’s mother in the disturbingly empty house.
All of these things are indicative of the mental state of our protagonist: as he dies, the narrative becomes more fractured; scenes repeat and the camera shifts awkwardly.
This is all fine and good. But there are some other significant factors that go unexplained. For instance, the significance of the number three. In one scene, the young man and his psychiatrist are walking through a college after an art lecture; as they progress around the building, there are sets of triplets in just about every corner of each shot. In another scene there are three out of focus metal globes; they appear in the next shot as well, though it’s in a different room. The psychiatrist’s girlfriend has three scars on her wrist from attempting to commit suicide. It is three days from the time the young man tells his psychiatrist he’s going to commit suicide till the day he says he’s going to it. Personally, I think these groups of three refer to the three other people in the car. Or perhaps it’s an allusion to the entire film taking place during the three – admittedly hypothetical – minutes he spends dying in real life.
The main characters, as well, exhibit characteristics that are, frankly, bizzarre but at the same time understandable in context. The psychiatrist is the side of him that doesn’t want to die and seeks to save him; his previous psychiatrist is the side of him that doesn’t care. The girlfriend is a sort of neutral ground. She has no real good reason not to die – other than that there’s so much beauty in the world – although she’s tried to kill herself (not to mention the three scars on her wrist from self-inflicted wounds, as if to say that even if he lives he’ll bear the scar of those three people dying in the car forever). The man he calls his father, who he heals of his blindness is his own understanding of what’s going on: when the blindness disappears, it’s a signal of his mental grasp of what’s going on. Shooting himself is his way of launching himself out of the dream and back into reality to finally die.
Do I agree with the film’s point? If it has one, not really. But on the other hand, you will have to watch this at least several times to get it down pat. It may even freak you out a bit. But at the end of the day it’s an excellent, excellent movie, and deserves to be seen.