It’s impossible to properly discuss Stay without discussing the ending. The movie depends on the last five minutes if it stands any chance of holding together. This, right off the bat, should be a bad sign. The Sixth Sense is a strong film even without the iconic (now cliché) twist, and 21 Grams (hell, any Iñárritu pic) features enough compelling drama to keep us interested until it all ties together at the end. But Stay feels more like an exercise than a fully fleshed out story, and as anyone who doesn’t love getting high and watching Waking Life knows, that just won’t cut it. Nonetheless, Stay is a movie worthy of analysis. It’s just that you gotta get through the first sitting first. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably experience five steps of emotion that are not unlike going on a hot date. Allow me to explain.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu began his uplifting “Trilogy of Death” with his directorial debut of Amores Perros. Just three years later, he and writer of the entire trilogy Guillermo Arriaga completed the second installment of the trilogy: 21 Grams. In many ways, 21 Grams tries to emulate Amores Perros both in style and content. The strategy seems well-guided, for Amores Perros was a true masterpiece in the way it employed non-linear story-telling, showed important themes such as companionship, and brought seemingly unrelated stories together. Additionally, the action in the different stories constantly kept the viewer intrigued. In other words, the movie never dragged. Unfortunately, despite its clear attempts, 21 Grams fails to live up to Amores Perros in many aspects, most notably in overall intrigue and pace. It’s still impressive in its directing, non-linear nature and convergence of unrelated stories, though, and even surpasses Perros in acting, particularly of main characters Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, and Sean Penn.
Iñárritu is one of the few directors who dares to completely throw linear storytelling out the window while, at the same time, juggling different storylines. 21 Grams follows the stories of Jack Jordan (Del Toro), an ex-con, born-again Christian; Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), a man with a heart condition and one month to live; and Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts), a happy wife and mother of two. All three of their lives are brought together by Jack accidentally running over Christina’s husband and two daughters. The use of a car accident to bring the stories together is a not-so-subtle relation to Amores Perros and the downward spiral each character faces following the accident is comparable as well. Jack turns himself in to the police, attempts suicide in prison, and never can reconnect with his family or God following the accident while Cristina struggles to deal with her crippling loss and falls back into alcohol and drugs. Paul is the only one who benefits, receiving Cristina’s husband’s heart which prompts him to forge a relationship with Cristina.