'Stay' makes the best use of scene transitions that I have ever seen. A person exiting a train enters a room instead, while a walk down a spiral staircase leads to a shadowy abyss where people disappear. It all seems like a trick at first, a visual device for the attention deficient, but gradually becomes a mechanism to reveal not just clues about what might be happening but also serve a very important purpose. These hints are presented to us in such a way that nearly everything we've seen by the end has been indicative of what will be revealed. Sold by the distributors as a shoddy winter horror film, the movie however is that rare intelligent, cinematic jewel that can only be described as an experience.
Our protagonist is Sam (Ewan McGregor) a university psychologist who takes up the case of Henry, (Ryan Gosling) a troubled campus student contemplating suicide. The manner in which Henry wants to go about committing his act is precise and planned; at midnight on the coming Saturday, he will shoot himself. His reasons are known entirely to him and his reluctance to cooperate makes him elusive to Sam's assistance. As a doctor, Sam must do everything within his abilities to prevent the situation from escalating, thus he embarks on a troubled quest to find reasons behind Henry's death wish, unveiling very strange things – including but not limited to encounters with people apparently dead, being addressed by names not his own and even observing the same events multiple times (ala 'Groundhog day') raising suspicion of his own sanity while vaulting from one maddening situation to another. Living with his girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), a once suicidal artist doesn't help, though it allows him to gain firsthand insight into what such people might be going through.
Amidst these happenings are many arresting situations and these become a visual playground for the director, the highly accomplished Marc Forster, who uses them to his strengths. Along with scriptwriter David Benioff, and some very nifty editing, they create an unsettling world where small interconnecting clues pepper multiple scenes; a handful noticed by me, numerous others surely missed out. A clear example of this occurs in a sequence where Henry visits one of those giant indoor aquariums and stares at the fish while a couple behind him flash photographs as they suspiciously talk in a manner that indicates they might know him. In the very next scene, that same photograph of the aquarium appears, almost unnoticed onscreen except by the most careful viewer, in the background inside the living room of the house that Sam and Lila share, and yet there is no way that that photograph could have gotten there. Or could it? The overall effect is visually disorienting, yet completely engrossing.
At the risk of sounding like I'm giving it all away, at one point we are made to think as if the two main characters are actually the same, a device utilized successfully in many recent films, but here it is actually used to throw us off balance. An easy trick in stories (and not necessarily movies) that defy belief or seem too incredulous is to conveniently reveal them to be dreams. How else do you explain a connection between people that simply cannot exist or an act within the tale that violates human ability and basic logic? By the time it reaches its concluding moments 'Stay' may make you think that perhaps you are about to witness just such a simplistic travesty, but the end is handled craftily and with a delicate poise that is unsettling and wholly immersive. I am not completely sure if I understood the conclusion the way it was meant to be understood, but by that point the films ambiguities and puzzles became for me its greatest pleasures. - Faizan Rashid