Stay

****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Like his first screenplay 25th Hour, David Benioff's third tells the story of a young New Yorker struggling to negotiate his past and his future as an unavoidable reality comes crashing towards him. Here, however, the protagonist is not facing hard times in prison, but death itself.

Indeed, Stay has far more in common with Ambrose Bierce's much anthologised 1891 short story An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge: both begin and end on a bridge (in this case, the Brooklyn Bridge), while everything that occurs in between is a mind-bending trip from one side to the next over some very troubled waters.

In Stay, directed by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland), what is at issue is Hamlet's metaphysical question "To be or not to be?" or, as Joe Strummer put it, "Should I stay or should I go?" New York psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) becomes "substitute shrink" to intense young arts student Henry Lethem (Ryan Gosling) after Henry's usual therapist, Dr Beth Levy (Janeane Garofalo), falls mysteriously ill.

When Henry announces his intention to commit suicide at midnight on his 21st birthday the following Saturday, Sam decides to do everything within his power to save this lost soul and turns for advice and help to his own girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), herself a troubled artist who had once attempted suicide. As Henry exhibits increasingly disturbed behaviour, insisting that Sam's long-time mentor Dr Leon Patterson (Bob Hoskins) is his own dead father and scrawling "Forgive me" in tiny script all over his apartment wall, Sam races against the clock to uncover the source of his patient's trauma.

His investigations lead to Henry's batty mother (Kate Burton) and to a waitress named Athena (Elisabeth Reaser), whom Henry had once hoped to marry, but as he gets closer to the truth, his own grip on reality begins to slip along with Henry's. The idea behind Stay is hardly original, having already appeared, not only in Bierce's celebrated short story, but also in films like Jacob's Ladder (1990), A Pure Formality (1994) and The I Inside (2003), whose narratives, for all their winding tricksiness, are each headed in the same inevitable direction. Yet to his credit Forster appears to have recognised that the cat is already out of the bag, and so, instead of focusing all his energies into the Big Reveal at the end, he takes much greater interest in the details of the mystery that get us there.

For Stay is not so much a thriller, with an unexpected twist, as a schizophrenic character study, a portrait of the artist as a disturbed young man, still exercising his creative imagination to the very end.

Look carefully and you will notice several sets of identical twins in the background and, sure enough, all the speaking characters perform a double role as their identies blur and merge across the divide. Fortunately the actors, without exception, prove equal to the peculiar demands placed upon them by Benioff's script, ingeniously constructed as it is from equivocations, double meanings and strange messages from beyond.

The real stars are Forster's direction, Roberto Schaefer's cinematography and Matt Chesse's editing, which combine to transform familiar New York settings into a labyrinthine playground of the mind, as though the metropolis had been redesigned by Escher. Seamless match cuts allow the free association of strikingly different scenes, while one location is linked to the next in impossible spatial arrangements that disorient the viewers as much as Sam. The effect is something indescribably cinematic, as the inner mechanics of the mind's eye are vividly translated onto the big screen. Beautiful, haunting and ultimately transcendent, Stay is a mysterious journey well worth making.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2006
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A psychiatrist tries to stop a young man committing suicide on his 21st birthday.
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The Exile *

Director: Marc Forster

Writer: David Benioff

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Bob Hoskins, Janeane Garofalo, Kate Burton, Elizabeth Reaser, BD Wong

Year: 2005

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

25th Hour
Jacob's Ladder