9 is a new animated film based upon an Academy Award nominated short of the same name. The film attracts attention for a intriguing preview, an all-star cast, and (perhaps most importantly) the attachment of Tim Burton’s name to the film (as a producer). But don’t expect your normal animated tale – not even your normal abnormal tale from Tim Burton (ala The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride).
While the merits of allowing children to watch Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Corpse Bride may be questionable at best, 9 seems to push far beyond the macabre and dark humor of these films. We should have known when the MPAA chose to rate 9 PG-13 while Nightmare and Corpse had both received only PG ratings.
The entire premise of 9 is dark – a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has been utterly destroyed and only stitchpunk dolls imbued with a soul survive. The stitchpunk dolls stumbling over the dead bodies of humans – soldiers, women, and children – is disturbing enough but the real scares are reserved for the horrifying mechanical monstrosities the stitchpunk dolls must face.
But Is It Good?
In spite of Tim Burton’s strangeness many thoroughly enjoy his films – and his repeated pairing with Johnny Depp – but this film is so different from Burton films that one has to consider it on its own merits. It should not be considered a Burton film (and it is not, though he participated Acker is the main brains).
The film is beautifully rendered (even the dark and morbid aspects are done with artistic finesse). One is drawn into the world and with a little imagination the film world takes on a reality all its own. That said, after twenty minutes I was fidgeting and wishing, “When will this film end?” The storyline consists almost entirely of stitchpunks fighting monsters – defeating or semi-defeating monsters – and then repeating the cycle. The fight scenes are amazingly rendered, the explosions and conflicts engrossing – but while the enemies vary it feels somewhat like an old-fashioned nintendo video game in which the levels repeat over and over with little variation.
Further, the film is painful to watch – not because of the elimination of humanity but because of the constant and growing suffering of the stitchpunks. While one never gets extremely attached to the stitchpunks the minute rendering of the terror of the suffering and the mourning of those left behind is agonizing. At times I wondered, “Will this film end with defeat?” For most of the film its defeat piled upon defeat. Hope is smashed repeatedly and the world draws ever closer to oblivion. Each chance at victory is spoiled and with it another character is heart wrenchingly destroyed.
But Does It Teach Us?
A film can be painful and boring and yet still have a deeply powerful message. Unfortunately, while 9 had great potential to engage us on important cultural and spiritual topics – it falls flat. It tackles a number of interesting ideas but with such brevity and amidst so many distractions that the opportunity for discussion is nearly lost. Here are a few implications I drew from the film (I am not indicating agreement with this ideas – personally I hold a Protestant Christian worldview):
- The stitchpunks creation/existence correlates with human creation. In this sense, we are god and god ceased to exist as a separate entity in order to create us.
- god was/is not a greater intelligence but rather another intelligence. The act of creation was an act of survival rather than an act of infinite wisdom and grace.
- 1 represents institutional religion/political order. These are safe but prevent us from experiencing progress.
- 9 is a post-modern revolutionary who attempts to move humanity forward. 9’s attempts result in great suffering for mankind. While revolutionary and de-construction may result in gradual advancement, the costs are extremely high.
- A dystopian view of technological/scientific advancement. Our advancements will one day destroy us.
- At the same time, an endorsement of radical innovation and rebellion (as 9 epitomizes), yet seemingly with less of a focus on technological/scientific advancement.
- The death of stitchpunks and the release of their souls is the food to renew the world, to start the evolutionary process again from the beginning.
9 is well-done artistically and may be viewed on these merits with enjoyment. Those looking for deep, thought provoking storylines and a enjoyable viewing will be disappointed. The worldview presented by the movie – or the extrapolations which one may carry from it – will be disconcerting to many audiences. The film should be watched with a contemplative eye that understands the worldview presented and adequately responds to the truths and untruths presented. The film is certainly not for children. It is not unnecessarily gory, but it is continually suspenseful, frightening in its tension, and dark in its portrayal of death and life.