A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie deals with difficult issues (loss, suicide, depression) in unusual ways (fractured imagery, nonlinear narrative, morphing characters). Younger viewers may be mystified by the movie's resistance to making standard sense. It begins with a car crash, the camera spinning violently to suggest the perspective of an obviously traumatized rider in the car. The film also features some harrowing, nightmare-like imagery, including spiral staircases, "doubles" of people, and repeated scenes that make time and space seem disjointed. Two characters appear with head wounds that bleed profusely, a dog attacks someone's arm, a young woman is restrained by doctors, and several characters refer to suicide; one character discusses her attempt with razor blades and shows her scars, and another puts a gun in his mouth and shoots, whereupon the shot cuts away without showing the blast, but cuts back to show his bloody head on the pavement. An art history lecture features disturbing paintings by Goya (soldiers and bloodied bodies). One character falls down the stairs and hits his head, hard. Some women appear in tight clothes, a brief visit to a strip bar includes pole dancers, mostly in the background. Characters use profanity, smoke cigarettes, and drink liquor, usually in despair or in an effort to self-medicate.
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What's the story?
A terrible car wreck on the Brooklyn Bridge leaves a vehicle in flames and young Henry (Ryan Gosling) stunned. Dr. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) awakens from what might be a bad dream, emerging into his own day. He rides his bike to work, a facility where he's subbing for another shrink, Beth (Janeane Garfolo). Sam's first patient is Henry, whose troubles elude naming -- except for his curt assertion that he means to kill himself on the coming Saturday night, at midnight. It's a threat and a promise, and Sam takes it seriously. Sam's life is soon entangled in Henry's. They slip in and out of one another's existences and spaces, on trains they ride run past one another, and stairways they descend turn into Moebius strips or endless, echoing spirals.
Is it any good?
Often evocative, sometimes audacious, and finally undone by an inelegant close, STAY is more like an art installation piece than a film. Though somewhat too fond of the morphing transitions and built atop a hoary concept -- a moment of death unpeels into multiple layers of experience, memory, and projection -- it does achieve an eerie reorganization of space (in particular, lower Manhattan), as well as a sometimes shrewd, sometimes nutty investigation of time, as a matter of faith, convenience, and construction.
Director Marc Forster is working from a script by David Benioff. Stay's obsession with loss seems of a piece with both their previous interests (Forster's Finding Neverland, Benioff's novel/screenplay for 25th Hour). 25th Hour remembered 9/11 by imagining a strangely nostalgic future; this movie also evokes 9/11 in its images of a broken New York, and is at once more hopeful and less believable. Its final images are so unlike what's come before that they feel tacked on, a resolution from nowhere that is, at last, unconvincing and daunting.
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