Why 9 Works

Spoiler warning! We can’t break apart a movie like this without giving away its twist.

9 is a little heard of film from 2009. It’s a dark dystopian film about little dolls left over after all the humans are gone. 

In this version of the end of the world, we were destroyed by our machines. This movie would have fit very well in the Animatrix. 

Much of what made 9 enjoyable was the atmosphere. The artwork is bright and dark at the same time. The little dolls have some great detail that holds up even after twelve years. And I love anything cute and creepy.

But as a writer, that’s not something I can replicate. What I can learn from is the story. 

Now, I have to say, the plot of the movie leaves something to be desired. It’s a little all over the place. At different times 9, our main character, has very different goals. It certainly doesn’t fall into a three-act structure.

While this is disorienting, it’s also not terrible. It’s just what I’d consider experimental. 9 has a set goal in mind, save his friend from the horrifying cat machine who stole him. 

It was entirely shocking to me when he failed at this. I had no idea what was going to happen after that. Which is kind of awesome. It’s kind of fun to be disoriented in the same way it’s kind of fun to be scared. 

It’s also brave to have your main character just straight up fail to do something he’s been trying to do through most of the movie. It’s realistic. We fail sometimes, at really important things. And if art is to be honest, we need to show those failures. 

I loved that, even though 9 couldn’t save his friend, he wins in the end. Because that’s a lesson we should all learn. That even if we fail at really important things, that doesn’t mean we’ll keep failing. 

Writing is about lying while telling the truth. The lie is this whole dystopian story. The truth is that one failure, no matter how big, isn’t a deciding factor for the rest of your life.

Now, you know I have to talk about characters. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t like the characters in this movie at first. They all seemed one-dimensional. This character was brave, this character was angry. They all seemed to have no more depth than that.

But that’s the gimmick. Because these aren’t separate characters. It’s only at the end of the movie that we learn they’re all aspects of their creators’ personality. This floored me. But I love it.

The main takeaway is this. 9 did two things that, if the movie hadn’t done them just right, would have been awful. They changed goals halfway through the movie and they had a cast of one-dimensional characters. And yet the story wouldn’t have worked any other way.

What we learn from this is to break the rules of writing if you can do it well. We don’t just ignore these rules out of laziness. No, I’d say that this story took a lot more effort than if the writer had obeyed the rules to the letter. If we ignore them, it should be a conscious choice. It should be to tell a great story, rather than just a good one.

Is there a story you’d like me to break apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments.

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