The apocalypse is the flavor of the month in the movies coming out in the next few months. No less than five will feature the end of the world as a backdrop of their stories.
“9” is the only one that uses animation to tell its story. And it is very stunning to see.
“9” opens with the hands of a creator. The creator is making what looks to be a rag doll made of burlap with binocular-like eyes. There is a zipper in the middle of this mechanical doll that is left open. On its back is written the number 9.
The next scene we see 9 come to life. We move from the room out into a cityscape that has the deep scar of war upon it. What follows is the discovery of others like him, rag dolls with numbers upon their backs. They inhabit a world where the humans are all dead. And in this world are mechanical creations, with red eyes, attempting to hunt down and kill the rag dolls.
In this world, the rag dolls have learned to hide and survive. 1 is the oldest of the group. He gathers the others in the confines of the church. His word is that they wait for the creature, called the Beast, to die. 9 wants none of this. He has seen the Beast capture 2 and he wants to find 2 and rescue him.
With 5 in tow, 9 finds the captured 2 within the walls of an old factory. We learn that the machines that were made there rebelled against humans and killed them all. Evil lurks in the factory.
Unwittingly, 9 causes a more powerful version of the Beast to come to life. This version of the Beast is what made the machines that killed the humans. The Scientist that created the machine had it taken away by the Chancellor, and that is when the war began. The machine was made for good, but the Chancellor’s interference turned into something evil.
How are these rag dolls going to stand up against a powerful war machine, with the power to create others like it, that has a goal of killing all life?
This movie uses its visual style to attempt to tell a powerful story. The locations in the cityscape provide metaphors for the story. The church is a place where you wait for death. There is no answer there. The answers are in the library, where 9 finds out the truth of what happened to the humans. The factory is a symbol of evil, where the destruction is made and let loose on the world.
The creator makes the dolls, but leaves them alone in the world. It seems he makes no provision for his creation. No one or no thing aids them. It is as if God created the world and walked away from creation.
Underneath the style come clues to the story’s spiritual underpinning. When 2 is taken off by the Beast, 1 says it is right that one die for the group. We find that 1 wants to be the spiritual leader, but he lacks the daring that 9 has.
9’s spirituality is one of strong faith that attempts to do something. His lack of hesitation and lack of fear speak of a belief that if one attempts something that attempt will be rewarded.
This is an ambitious movie. Besides its beauty, the makers are trying to say something about humanity’s flirtation with technology and the danger it presents. The irony is that it is technology that allows for the making of the movie.
What “9” lacks is stronger storytelling. It is like its protagonist. There is daring here, but that daring is not enough. The narrative suffers. It is big on theme and beauty, but in need of more time for the story to develop. That makes this movie a bit of a disappointment.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and scary images (Reviewer’s note: This is not a movie for younger children.)
Director: Shane Acker
Writer: Pamela Pettler, based a story by Shane Acker
Cast: Christopher Plummer: 1; Martin Landau: 2; John C. Reilly: 5; Crispin Glover: 6; Jennifer Connelly: 7; Fred Tastasciore: 8; Elijah Wood: 9.
The movie’s official web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.