Stay (2005) — A head injury of a movie

“Everyone seems to think your mother is dead, and I’m standing in a kitchen talking to her!”

Sue’s rating: Tylenol is my friend.

Sue’s review: Before it was ever released, all I knew about Stay was that it starred Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and Ryan Gosling, and that it had flunked miserably in a test screening and had to be sent back to the editing elves for major surgery. (Editing elves are almost identical to the Keebler guys, except that they wear berets and run with scissors.) Lacking marketing moxie or positive mojo, it tanked at the box office – so badly that it never even hit my usual theater and I didn’t bother to traipse the twenty or thirty extra miles to see it on a big screen. In retrospect, even though I certainly didn’t hate Stay, I think I made the most fiscally practical choice.

To summarize extremely briefly: Sam, a pinch-hitting Pshrink, is determined to keep Henry (part man, part ashtray) from killing himself. Sam’s loyal backup band is comprised of Lila — former wrist slitter and current gal-pal, and blind Leon, who looks just like Bob Hoskins. Cause he is. Then it gets weird.

Stay comes across as part mystery, part hallucination and part dream sequence. Is it confusing? YES. Does it make sense? NO. (At least not until the end, and even then it might trigger a Poolmanesque eyebrow twitch.) And yet, I couldn’t help but think that there was something sort of uncomfortably familiar about it. Not with the plot, not with the characters, but…but…

And that was when I realized that Stay’s greatest triumph can only truly be appreciated by someone who has suffered a certain type of head injury. Like me. Yes boys and girls! It’s story time!

Back in 1988, I spent a few very interesting hours wandering around scenic Radnor Township in Pennsylvania with no idea who I was, who my horse was, or — more importantly — where I was. This is because sudden twisting deceleration combined with becoming horizontal while airborne and then being subjected to the force of gravity is not good for your clarity of thought. In layman’s terms: my horse was running really fast, but then she fell down and went BOOM — and luckily for us, the side of my head broke the worst of our fall.

Now because adrenalin is sort of an amazing thing, I remember the first 10-20 post-head trauma moments with clarity. I know I kept checking to see if my horse was injured (she was) over and over and over, because from one moment to the next, I couldn’t remember if she was bleeding or not. I would actually drop the reins and walk around her in a complete circle, rediscovering all the places where she no longer had hair. Or skin. (Why the horse didn’t just canter off for home without me will be an eternal mystery. Could have been Divine Intervention. It could be that she had a concussion too. Actually the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.) I spent the rest of my time staring at the horizon and thinking “I have to find a reference point.” Those were the exact words I used. “Reference point.”

Eventually the adrenalin wore off, my horse took over, and things sort of blurred into yellows, greens and noise that sounded suspiciously like rush hour traffic. For all I know, we walked down the center of a road. It wasn’t until we got back to the barn that things snapped back into some sort of focus again.

Now I know that all seems irrelevant to a movie review, but when I look at the way my brain was working (or not) after that injury, I can only conclude that the writer and/or director of Stay, also crashed and burned off a stump-tailed Appaloosa at some point in their lives. I’m not saying that the movie is nothing more than a giant cinematic head injury, well, not exactly, but there’s definitely all sorts of visual weirdness. What hurt it most for me was that sometimes I was so busy looking for Escher-istic clues that I stopped listening and missed entire paragraphs of dialogue. This wasn’t a problem for me and the trusty DVD player, but you can’t rewind in a theater so it’s no wonder that it failed so miserably out in the big wide multiplex world.

(Oh yes, and McGregor’s trousers were constantly about three inches north of flood stage. I don’t care why director Marc Forster thought it was such a great idea, it was too distracting to be worthwhile.)

I have to ask myself, did the end justify the meandering? The answer is, not really. For a bit of entertainment, Stay was okay. Just okay. Donnie Darko, however, was loads better.

Didja notice?

  • A suit with too short trousers and no socks? Classy!
  • Instant-hail storm? Since when did New York’s weather start behaving like Wisconsin’s?
  • The human arm is not meant to be nature’s ashtray.
  • Seeing numerous “incidental” instances of two or more people wearing identical clothing is just freaky.
  • Lila’s t-shirt features the USS Tarawa CV40, an amphibious assault ship.
  • There’s no furniture in the Letham house, and the wall paper is stained, but the wood floors are nice and shiny.
  • Beware the dog.
  • Lots of duplicates and deja vu.
  • Lots of duplicates and deja vu.
  • An NYC chess set? That’s pretty cool.
  • Letham (Henry’s last name) is an anagram of Hamlet. Hamlet is referred to multiple times in the film.
  • Many extras in this film are showed doubled, even tripled in background. Many times you can see two or three people walking side by side wearing the same clothes and caring same things.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. These services are free and confidential.

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