Stay is the first time I have ever wished there was an optional director's or writer's commentary when you watch a movie at a theater. This movie is so complex, so bizarre, so abstract that I highly doubt anyone can truly figure it out, only make speculation as to what it's all supposed to mean. The movie gives us no straight answers, I guess we're supposed to walk away with our own thoughts as to what it was supposed to be about. The problem is, director Marc Foster's (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) vision is so muddled and confusing that it's almost impenetrable. This is one of those movies that's going to spark debate amongst film geeks for years. It's also going to unfortunately divide people into two camps - those who "get it", and those who don't. I'm all for a movie letting us make up our own minds about what the movie was supposed to be about. But, you need to throw the audience somewhat of a coherent bone once in a while, and Stay just does not play fair with its own mystery.
The action begins with a cryptic opening sequence involving what appears to be a car crash, followed by a young adult by the name of Henry (Ryan Gosling) sitting distraught and dazed in front of the flaming wreckage of a car. Some time later (how much time has passed is not indicated), Henry finds himself in the office of college campus psychiatrist Sam (Ewan McGregor). Their meeting is brief, but there are many more to come within the next couple days. And the more Sam learns about Henry, the more concerned he becomes. Henry complains about hearing voices, not knowing what's real anymore, and openly mentions that he plans to kill himself this coming Saturday night at midnight - Henry's 21st birthday.
Sam is naturally concerned, and does his best to get Henry the help he needs, but the young man is often aggressive toward his compassion, and disappears for days at a time, only to appear without warning. Sam feels a personal need to help Henry get past his suicidal thoughts, as he is currently living with his girlfriend, Lila (Naomi Watts), who attempted to take her life at one time, and still has the scars on her wrists from that moment. As Sam tries to track the elusive Henry down, he is drawn into a bizarre world of madness where nothing seems to make sense. He keeps on meeting people that other people around him insist are dead (such as Henry's mother and father). The world seems to be constantly changing around him, and he keeps on seeing the same people over and over again doing the exact same thing that he saw them doing the previous day. Is Sam losing his mind? Is there some kind of connection between doctor and patient? Is this all some kind of fantasy dreamed up by a feverish mind?
Stay certainly has all the makings of an intense psychological thriller/drama in the style of Jacob's Ladder or the modern day anime classic, Perfect Blue. It is a movie that distorts reality, makes us question what is real and what is not, and intentionally reveals as little as possible. Unfortunately, the film is a bit too vague for its own good. Answers are either unsatisfactory or completely nonexistent. When the movie was over, I only had a rough estimate as to what the ending and everything that had come before it was supposed to mean. It was not until I did some scouring on the Internet, and read other people's reactions that I started to get a clearer picture. Stay is the kind of movie that tells you very little, allowing the viewer to piece together the puzzle.
Unfortunately, this puzzle is missing a few pieces, most of which is an overall sense of coherency. In Jacob's Ladder and Perfect Blue, there at least seemed to be a method to the madness. If you put enough thought to the films, then yes, they actually started to make some sense. Although I am slowly piecing together the plot of Stay, there are still some things that just don't plain make sense to me, and seem to have simply been included by screenwriter David Benioff just for the sake of being weird. I will not go into detail to avoid spoilers, but I personally feel that Stay does not play fair. It bends reality and toys with us from the very first frame of the film, and expects us to be delighted with its own cleverness. Actually, I'd be more delighted if there actually seemed to be more rhyme and reason. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something. But to me, the movie simply seemed to be toying with us, and not even caring if we understand its message or not.
Stay is not only the most perplexing screen riddle I have seen in a while, it's also one of the more visually interesting. Director Forster does some very nice visual tricks, like how scenes literally morph into each other. This is not only a cool effect, but it also ties into the film's overall theme of reality being distorted and bended. The performances are pretty strong all around as well. It's nice to finally see Ewan McGreggor in a real acting role again, one where he's not under the oppressive directing ineptitude of George Lucas, or voicing a CGI cartoon character. Ryan Gosling gives an appropriately angst and terror-ridden performance, but also seemed strangely distant to me. The more I think about it, the more I think that he's supposed to be the emotional center of the film. He's passable, but something seemed missing from his performance. The main highlight to the film is Naomi Watts, who brings an unforced charm to her performance as Sam's faithful girlfriend who becomes increasingly interested in his most recent patient.
Stay is certainly a thought-provoking film, and I think it's one that's going to be hotly debated amongst film fans for years to come, especially after it comes out on DVD. (Hopefully with a commentary of some sort.) Unfortunately, I cannot truly recommend it, as I became frustrated with the film's own games. There's just not enough logic applied to back up the film's own ideas, even after reading other people's reactions as to what they thought it should be about. A movie like Stay should leave you thinking, and smiling as the pieces slowly fall into place the more you think about it. Well, I've been thinking about this movie since 2 this afternoon, and I still feel like I'm no closer to solving its puzzle. Stay is a noble failure, but a failure nonetheless.