A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 193 – 9 (2009)

9 (2009) – September 9th, 2010

While this movie certainly has a dystopian post-apocalyptic setting, I will assure you right away that it is nothing like last night’s movie. For one, it’s animated. For another, it’s not satire. Oh, and it has no sex, no drugs and no Bai Ling. I suppose one could make a somewhat strained attempt at an allegorical analysis, but it would really only work on a messianic level. Which is fine and all. There’s a god figure and a messiah figure and if you wanted to get all academic about it you could. But I prefer to enjoy it without mucking around like that.

It’s not a complicated story, which is another way it differs from last night’s movie. It’s really rather simple. It’s short and it’s easy to follow, even though the first ten minutes or so have no dialogue. There’s a little bit of narration, and then it’s all visuals as we meet 9, a little figure made of canvas and gears, string and a zipper and tiny copper and wood hands and feet. He is a made creature, built by an obviously skilled craftsman who has died before 9 wakes up. Somehow he brought 9 to life. After 9 leaves the house he was made in we see what the world has come to. It’s a desolate place full of rubble and ruins, death and decay, broken things and no people. 9 meets 2, another little figure much like himself but slightly less refined, and so we find that there are a total of nine figures, each made by the same man and sent out into the world with their numbers on their backs. It’s a hostile world, though, and some of them have been lost. 1 keeps the remaining figures safe in a church, for there are mechanical beasts lurking. Dangers they can’t fight.

Of course when 9 arrives he throws things into disarray. He questions 1, defies him, goes after 2 to save him from one of the beasts and ends up waking a machine that builds other machines and begins to hunt them all down. We met the rest of the figures, one by one, and learn about what they are and who they are and where they came from. They weren’t just sent out there for kicks. They have a purpose. And each one is different.

I suppose it’s a little hackneyed to some that each one of the nine represent a different facet of their creator’s personality, but I like it. I think it’s done very nicely and I like how the characters are built. There’s the leader type, there’s a tinkerer, a pair of librarians and academics, a caretaker for the others, a mystic with artistic leanings, a brave warrior, the one-man brute squad, and finally an inquisitive adventurer. Sure, there’s some overlap, but that suits them. No two share everything except the librarians (who seem to be twins), and each one fits with the others in a different way. And, much like humans, they bicker and fight and end up divided until a common foe unites them.

As I said, it’s a simple story. It’s a quest. In a harsh landscape a small band of survivors must defeat a powerful enemy and somehow restore hope that life will flourish again. That’s not complex. And the different traits of the characters are really a bald-faced way of setting out each character’s role in the story, which most movies do anyhow but don’t go practically labeling them. But the story is told and performed so well, and the visuals and animation are so beautiful, that a simple story with clearly defined character roles becomes something more.

The visuals are what struck me first. The world the nine inhabit is not a pleasant one, certainly. It’s ugly. It’s destroyed. It’s full of crashed planes and half-bombed bunkers and discarded weapons. The buildings are smashed in and there are at least three dead bodies seen partially by 9 himself. But those things are done in careful detail. The workshop where the nine were made, and the figures themselves, they’re incredibly intricate. Even the monsters, cobbled together from spare parts and animal skeletons, are beautiful in their ugliness. But really, it’s the figures that I love the most. Them and the library. Each figure was clearly made with a combination of found objects and custom-made pieces. Their eyes are little lenses with apertures that open and close to form the pupils. The librarian twins don’t talk but can project images with their eyes. The materials each of the figures are made from differ in texture and shade. 6 is striped, 7 is smooth, 3 and 4 are garden gloves. There’s a semi-steampunk feel to things without going quite far enough to truly be steampunk.

And then there’s the library. Of course I love the library. 3 and 4 have built up a huge store of items and ephemera and books and film reels and set it all up in a circular tower with their catalog in the middle on the ground floor. Strings on each page lead to the appropriate alcove full of information. Elegant and fun at the same time. I want a room like that.

In the end it’s all only resolved enough to give hope, not clear answers. Some of the characters are dead and gone. Others survive to try and rebuild and reclaim the world that’s been left to them, flawed and broken by the now-extinct human race. I’d be curious to see a sequel, but much like with the allegorical stuff, I’m content to let it go. It’s a lovely movie all on its own and doesn’t really need any more mucking around.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment


September 9, 2010


In a clever piece of marketing this movie cam out last year on this date – 9/9/09. When I realized that today was September ninth again I figured it was a good time to watch this again. Of course any time is a good time to watch a strange, beautiful and unique movie like this.

When I saw previews of this last year I had no idea what to expect, but I was intrigued. The look of the movie made me think that perhaps it was a stop-motion adventure film of some kind. The previews concentrated on the magical quest aspects of the story and threw a bunch of names at you. Elijah Wood, Tim Burton, Jennifer Connelly, Timur Bekmambetov. What did it all mean?

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that it is not an animated film for children. I think if I had seen this as a child I would have been haunted by nightmares for weeks. It’s full of dark terrifying imagery. But it also has a beauty to it, a slight hopefulness behind all the horror.

The story revolves around a doll sized mechanical man identified only by the number 9 written on his back. He awakens in a strange workshop that is part of a post-apocalyptic world. Within the desolation he soon meets another little homunculus like himself, this one numbered 2. When 2 is captured by a vicious catlike robotic beast 9 soon finds himself taken in by the four other remaining dolls; 1, 2, 5 and 6. 3, 4 and 7 have all already been lost somewhere in the wilderness. 1 wants to hide, safe in the sanctuary of the church where he and the others have been hiding, but 9 insists on going back out to find and rescue 2.

He does find 2, and the others as well, but in the process awakens a horrifying evil that had been slumbering. There are no humans left in the world of 9, but the machine that wiped them all out – a vast factory beast that creates other machines to do its bidding – is still out there. Ultimately 9 and his companions must find a way to defeat this horror.

The nine little dolls each have a slightly different character. There’s 9 of course, who’s all courage and dedication. He wants only to help the others and never shows any sign of fear. 1 is all caution and perseverance. He has been trying to create a safe place for the others to live in. 2 is an inventor, always tinkering. 3 and 4 are librarians and historians, if you’d believe it, archiving newsreel footage and newspapers from the old world. 5 is all heart, he cares about everybody and only wants to do what’s best. 6 is a mad artist, forever doodling. 7 is the only identifiable female of the group and is a hunter and adventurer. 8 is a big lug, a steadfast fighter and defender.

But all of that only scratches the surface of what it is that makes this movie so unique. The real soul of this movie is in its tone and its art. It takes place in an alternate world where the apocalypse happened, apparently, during World War II. We see a lot of newspaper clippings and newsreel footage as exposition during the film, and it all has a very 1930s feel to it. The characters themselves appear to be constructed from various different rough woven cloths (their characters are somewhat revealed through their different designs. It’s clear that they were each constructed to fill different roles from the very start.) Everything that they use in their world is constructed from the detritus left behind after the great war that eradicated all life. The way that all their tools, weapons and clothes are clearly re-purposed human artifacts reminded me very much of The Rats of NIMH, which also had some of the tone of melancholy that so permeates this film.

It’s that tone that so captivates me. It’s not just that the setting is a destroyed and lifeless world where these characters and their mechanical nemesis are the only things left. There’s a sense throughout the film of despair and hopelessness. The very first companion that 9 comes upon is quickly torn away from him and when he finds the others they are already fractured and lost. There’s a sense of a horrible history not just for the world where the action is set but for the relationships of all the main characters. Why was 2 out in the wastes at the start of the story all alone? Where are 3, 4 and 7? What has already befallen this little band of isolated survivors? It’s all so sad and bleak.

Then there are the mechanical beasts created by The Machine. They are pure nightmare fodder, constructed from garbage and skeletons. 9 and his companions have to defeat several of these horrors, each more terrifying and ghastly than the last. As the film progresses The Machine constructs more and more elaborate creations, ultimately making things specifically to hunt down the heroes – things of such primal base horror that I would not be surprised to see them in a Wes Craven movie. As I said, this is not a movie intended for children.

This must have been a challenge to the marketing team for this film. How do you advertise an animated film set in a bleak and melancholy world filled with horrors? It’s more akin to anime films like Battle Angel than any American animation. It’s got a sort of art-house experimental film vibe to it which doesn’t really fit with the populist box office draws of today. Ultimately I suppose you have to do what they ended up doing: concentrate on the adventure parts and highlight the big name producers and actors attached to the project. And hope that people like me, who really enjoy unique and artistically extraordinary films, discover it. I’m glad that I did.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment