Release Date: 1/22/21; In Theaters (Original Release – 1/27/20; Sundance Film Festival)
Director: Edson Oda
Studio(s): Mandalay Pictures, Sony Pictures
Running Time: 124 mins.
Cast: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl.
Story: What if being born is not the beginning but the goal? In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man named Will interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege he once had: to be born. Five contenders emerge. During the course of nine days, Will tests each of them, but he can choose only one. The victor will be rewarded with a coveted opportunity to become a newborn in the real world, while the others will cease to exist—nine days is everything they’ll ever experience.
Will is an arbiter who judges souls before they inhabit bodies in the living. He lives in an isolated house in the middle of a desert scape, interviewing candidate souls for the opportunity to be born; if they are not selected, Will gives them a parting memory before their existence is erased. His only company is Kyo, a soul who did not disappear, and has since assisted in Will’s interviews. Will spends his days watching and taking notes on a multitude of television screens, each displaying the life of a different individual that Will has previously selected. His favorite is Amanda, a 28-year-old violin prodigy. However, on her way to a large concierto, Amanda drives too fast on the highway and crashes into an overpass, killing her.
As Will grapples with Amanda’s death, candidates begin arriving to interview for the vacancy Amanda left behind – a process that will take nine days. He asks the candidates simple questions about life and has them take notes on what they like or dislike about the lives of others who were chosen. Will is particularly intrigued by Emma, who displays heightened empathy and curiosity despite showing little interest in the selection process. Over the course of the nine days, most of the candidates are dismissed for various reasons, such as self-consciousness and lack of respect for suffering. Will does his best to recreate life events for the failed candidates, such as walking on the beach or bike-riding through a city, before the candidates disappear forever.
Kyo invites another nearby interviewer to meet with Will, as she had previously selected Amanda’s cousin for birth. She shows Will a tape shortly after Amanda’s death, which reveals that Amanda left behind a suicide note before her crash. Kyo attempts to help Will get over her death, but Will continues to watch tapes from her life, unable to understand why she did it. Will later explains to Emma that in his previous life he once gave a theater performance that made him feel alive, but never pursued his passion after that. He reacts angrily when another candidate, Alex, points out Will’s hypocrisy for judging people’s lives when he never did anything meaningful with his own life.
The candidates are narrowed down to two: Emma and Kane. While Emma is carefree and sees the best in people, Kane is more pessimistic, recognizing the evil in the world and showing resolve to fight back against it. Despite Kyo recommending that Will picks Emma, he chooses Kane to be born. Emma declines a last experience and opts to walk across the desert until she disappears. Will later finds a note from Emma where she thanks him and explains she wrote happy memories she had during the interview process; Will finds them written all over the house. Feeling regret, he runs across the desert after Emma and passionately recites selections from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, then thanks her. Source(s): Sundance; Wikipedia; People.com.