“Am I alive? What if I’m God?”
As big questions go, this is the biggie. Plaguing philosophers, theologists and armchair nutters through the ages, so too a panicked actor, waking up after a crack binge to find he’s missing a belly button, in the delirious opening rampage of John August’s mind-bending masterpiece.
Seeing he’s on a 911 call there isn’t much of a response to existential angst, but the rest of the movie’s 99 minutes is spent answering with a hallucinatory megaphone.
Neatly divided into three interlinking parts, The Nines flits between genres, embracing sci-fi mystery, ghost story and Hollywood meta-satire, each section moving closer to one man’s gradual acceptance of his own true nature. It may be the highest-concept movie ever made.
The theme of creation is established in the opening credits – the making of a green rope bracelet, threads weaved together and tied to a wrist, binding three versions of the same character together across three movie chapters.
In the first chapter, Ryan Reynolds is Gary, a TV cop show star who ends up under house arrest after crashing his car in the opening meltdown. Within his luxury prison, perky publicist Margaret (Melissa McCarthy) becomes his new BFF, while mysterious neighbour Sarah (Hope Davis) encourages escape.
All is not what it seems – the house may be haunted, he finds a note saying ‘Look For The Nines’ and begins seeing the number everywhere. Everyone seems be in on a secret kept from him and stepping outside the property boundary may cause the world to end…
And then things get really weird.
The second and third parts of the movie show overlapping worlds where Reynolds, McCarthy and Davis are recast in variations of their tug of love triangle; their repetitive conflict less a battle for Reynolds’ soul than a desperate attempt at rebooting him – “this is not a murder, but an intervention”.
In the second chapter, Reynolds is now gay TV writer/showrunner Gavin, trailed by a documentary crew while working on the pilot for new series ‘Knowing’, starring best friend Melissa McCarthy. However duplicitous executive Susan (Hope Davis) believes Melissa isn’t right for the part, giving Gavin the moral dilemma of choosing career over friendship.
In the final chapter ‘Knowing’, Reynolds is “video game god” Gabriel, married to Mary (McCarthy) with a mute daughter (Elle Fanning). When their car runs flat after picnicking in the hills, Gabriel goes off searching for a phone signal, running into hiker Sierra (Davis), whose offer of help disguises a need to lead him astray…