“I do not have a belly button”
There really isn’t a way to talk about John August’s The Nines without spoiling some aspect of the intricate plot and creation structures at play. But first, I need to give a round of applause to the filmmaker for having the audacity to craft something original, thought provoking, and intelligent. I’ve got to say that those things are few and far between these days. The film is not a masterpiece as it does take a while to find the tone that it wants and succeeds with at the end and there are some issues I have with it plothole-wise, yet you cannot deny the brilliance of storytelling that is at work. You believe that the movie concerns a man going crazy, maybe having a mid-life crisis/nervous breakdown, as his being fractures into three separate identities, living simultaneously. Well, that’s what I got from the trailer anyways, and it’s not that far off. One man is many characters, but the cause of this and its effect on the world as a whole is far bigger than a psychological disorder. We are dealing with Gods and higher beings, humanity’s puppet-masters. Maybe we were created in his image after all.
If I were to delve deeper into the meaning of everything, I’d say that this is a very personal film to August, almost a representation of his life and career, constantly creating new worlds and characters in his work, only to see some succeed and flourish while others get stuck in house-arrest, never to see the light of day. It is the storytellers that exist on a higher plane than mere humans, they are God-like in their duties, but still must answer to a higher power, 9’s to God’s 10. Oh, and let’s not forget those pesky koalas living at an 8, directly above humanity’s 7, because of their telepathic abilities—loved that little touch. It only takes a thought on behalf of Ryan Reynolds’s Gary/Gavin/Gabriel to bring something to life or to take it away. He is the creator of his world, loving his toys so much that he decides to manifest himself into the “game”, becoming addicted and infused completely with a litany of avatars running around. He is a man that has lost his way, engrossed in being a human, he has forgotten his true place on the hierarchy, needing another 9, Hope Davis’s Sarah/Susan/Sierra, to wake him up and bring him back to their plane to create new things and break free from the gravity of the old.
It is Melissa McCarthy’s role that intrigues the most however. She is Reynolds’s favorite, always a part of his lives, no matter which version he is. However, she is a human, a 7, with knowledge of everything. How has this occurred? Being his most cherished, did he tell her many iterations what was going on? But that’s impossible since he doesn’t even know what he is. I can understand Davis turning on the computer and playing a role to reach Reynolds and wake him from his daze because she is a 9, but McCarthy doesn’t have that power, yet her Margaret tells Gary what is happening and her Mary understands that Gabriel must leave her. And even then, when Gabriel leaves, she is left with the same husband she has as Melissa in Gavin’s story. Does that mean these three existences are parallel to each other but never touching? Gary and Gavin do have a close encounter, briefly seeing the other and hearing their movements as though ghosts. Maybe everything happening is doing so at the same time; multiple game versions being played with the same settings, but Reynolds’ programmer is inside a different pod on each. Maybe he is doing a Being John Malkovich, entering a character for a limited time, so that we the audience see him as Reynolds, but the “game” characters still see him as the person he is inhabiting. There truly is this much going on.
What is really enjoyable, though, is the cyclical nature of it all. The Gary character is under house arrest in the Gavin character’s house while he is pitching a television pilot of Gabriel’s story. In this aspect, perhaps the 9 version of Reynolds hated that Gavin’s vision was sabotaged, so he created a new world where that show was a reality. It is a nice thought, but kind of impossible since Davis was the one who destroyed the show in the first place, a ploy to wake Reynolds up by removing him from that story’s version of McCarthy. She needed to rid him of his attachment to her on every single plane, breaking that bond so he would leave each game he has entered, coming back to whatever reality he truly exists on. Playing so many roles—playing God in general—just may be as hard as it looks. With so many lives running around in his head, there is bound to be overlap. Gavin’s subconscious might have just been thinking about Gabriel’s life, therefore writing the story for his teleplay. The same person inhabits them both, so it is not that hard to believe.
The Nines will make you think, it will make you question, and it will entertain in its originality. This is not your run-of-the-mill drama that will appeal to the general population; you need to have an analytic mind and desire to be challenged in order to comprehend what is going on. There are a few gimmicks thrown in to help you come to a conclusion on how it is all occurring—Sim City like numbers floating above people’s heads at the end of Gavin’s reality show being the most blatant—but I think August leaves enough to the imagination and to our intelligence to figure the rest out ourselves. The acting is great throughout and it is nice to see Reynolds be able to branch out and show some dramatic chops, while still retaining his usual sarcastic wit. Again, though, the tone is a bit mixed at the start, leaving a little to be desired by not taking itself seriously. As the story progresses, the reality becomes darker and more serious, definitely something that made it work much better for myself. And I have to single out Melissa McCarthy for a really magnificent performance. She is so endearing and funny as Margaret, so vulnerable and likable as Melissa, and loving and emotive as Mary. Consistently stealing each “game” she is a part of, it’s interesting that a human becomes the strongest part of each arc. But then, maybe that’s why Reynolds’s 9 loved his world so much, he needed to be with her at any cost.
The Nines 7/10 | ★ ★ ★
 Ryan Reynolds as Gary and Hope Davis as Sarah in Newmarket Films’ ‘The Nines’.
 Melissa McCarthy as Margaret and Elle Fanning as Noelle in John August’s ‘The Nines’