Stay  is the fifth film from Marc Forster starring Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling, and Naomi Watts among an ensemble of talented and familiar faces. Reality becomes questionable as a psychiatrist attempts to help a suicidal art student who plans on following in the footsteps of his favorite painter.
“There’s too much beauty to quit.” Marc Forster is no stranger to directing emotionally stimulating films; however, this is the only film in his repertoire which uses all the tricks that only cinema can provide to deeply affect the audience. Besides being beautifully shot, it’s also cleverly edited to bring viewers into a dreamlike state as we fall deeper down the rabbit hole of the protagonist’s questionable reality. One of the gimmicks that flow throughout is that scene transitions are never just jump cuts but rather somehow morph or fall right into one another. The 180-degree rule is broken a number of times to subtly throw things out of balance and a myriad of other editing tricks are used to convey an unsettling or confusing mood. It all plays towards the ultimate reveal and many subtleties pay off greatly for those who give the film the repeated viewings it deserves.
“If this is a dream, the whole world is inside it.” Technically this production shines, and it has to in order to work. The level of detail in the way scenes are pieced together, the subtle audio queues and inserts throughout, and even the casting and handling of the smaller roles and extras all have to be perfect in order for everything to land before the curtain falls. The leading roles are held strongly by well-known and gifted actors though at times things seem to be a bit more melodramatic than is necessary. Luckily there are moments that particular stand out, and some smaller exchanges that feel genuine and honest enough you can’t help but smile. While the atmosphere often holds that cold blue or greenish filter that became so popular in the late 90’s there’s still a lightness that shines through every now and then that ensures a balance that works well.
“An elegant suicide is the ultimate work of art.” What’s most important is the story is compelling. The setup of the characters and the circumstances are strong and the progression of the scenes move at a pace that never drags. The audience is continually thrown into moments that force a furled brow, wondering what and why this character is doing or saying something in particular. As the second and third act make their way along the audience is cleverly thrown into the protagonist’s point of view so that every strange, questionable event is just as clear to the viewer as it is to those involved. The performances carry things forward nicely and because these people seem to be genuine and good it’s easy to fall in line with them even when things get troubling.
“Your troubles will cease and fortune will smile upon you.” In the end, Stay finds itself alongside those films you introduce to friends and say, “you have to watch it twice, the ending changes everything.” The first viewing is a magnificent mystery and repeated viewings only heighten the appreciation for how wonderfully structured and executed the whole thing is. It’s a beautiful piece of cinema that deserves much more recognition than it’s received. Give it a chance, then share it with those close to you.