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From the beginning of Marc Forster’s Stay things don’t seem to add up. Take an opening title sequence that amounts to one of the most jarringly shot car crash sequences ever, or so it would seem.

We quickly shift to Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor), a psychiatrist who has taken over a new patient while his colleague Beth (Janine Garofalo) gets some much needed rest. His new patient is Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling), a pale and lanky Fine Arts major who plans to commit suicide in three days, which coincides with his 21st birthday.

Sam is forced to constantly play the role of therapist, as we learn that his live-in girlfriend Lila Culpepper (Naomi Watts) has attempted to take her own life at one point in their past. She spends a great deal of her time painting, teaching, and desiring reassurance from Sam.

Sam, on the other hand, grows increasingly more intrigued with Henry when he seemingly predicts a pending hail storm. When Henry informs Sam of his plan to commit suicide, Sam grows increasingly distant from Lila, whom he learns has decided to refrain from taking her medication.

Lila’s decision doesn’t sit well with Sam, especially in lieu of Henry’s plans. Lila wishes to meet with Henry despite Sam’s reluctance, because she feels as though she can relate to him, and possibly reach him. Lila explains that when she took an attempt on her life, she took two razor blades into the bathroom to make sure she didn’t drop one in the process. She question Sam, “Can you imagine that? Hating your life so much that you need a backup razor?”

David Benioff’s script creates a labyrinthine yarn that buckles and folds over onto itself in numerous ways. Forster’s direction does nothing but serve the complex maze constructed by Benioff’s screenplay, adding layer upon layer of possibility to process and mull over.

Camerawork and trickery adds visual anomalies which compliment the lyrical ones constructed within the confines of the story as Sam’s reality begins to blur inexplicably. Reoccurring scenarios involving piano movers, a mother and child holding a balloon, and a waitress named Athena (Elizabeth Reaser) force Sam to question his own grasp of reality.

Viewers may grow confused with the outcome of the film, which is fully explainable and within the boundaries of reason. During the screener I attended, the audience left the theater abuzz with questions and explanations alike.

To delve much further into the plot would do disservice to viewers who hope to watch the film at all. It isn’t so much that there is a twist that could be spoiled, but more the fact that there is a reality the film artistically works towards establishing throughout the course of the film that should not be revealed up front.

Forster’s last film, Finding Neverland, was a rather uneven film with patches of brilliance impeded by poor pacing and unneeded moments of supposed connection. Here, Forster proves that he is capable of delivering a mesmerizing dreamscape while remaining concise and on point throughout. We don’t know what to believe, and our eyes remind us constantly that something is not adding up yet we cannot help but become engrossed with the developments at hand.

There have been other films released in the past that tackle subjects similar in nature, one of which remains this critic’s definitive depiction of celluloid dreamscapes, and yet Stay manages to work within this subject matter while remaining fresh and absorbing throughout.


Mario Anima

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