Ewan McGregor as Sam Foster
Ryan Gosling as Henry Letham
Naomi Watts as Lila Culpepper
Bob Hoskins as Dr. Leon Patterson
Kate Burton as Mrs. Letham
Janeane Garofalo as Dr. Beth Levy
B.D. Wong as Dr. Ren
Elizabeth Reaser as Athena
“Stay” is a dream of humanity, where everyone and everything is connected, but not in the way we think it is. Director Mark Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland”) – with some ingenious assistance from editor Matt Chesse and visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug (“Fight Club,” “The Cell”) – goes out on a tremendous limb, crafting a piece of abstract cinema that would do David Lynch proud, yet also with a point to be made. Everything is bound together, just not by the laws of time and spouse, but by something more primal and powerful; the human soul.
Sam (Ewan McGregor) is a psychiatrist trying to help Henry (Ryan Gosling) not kill himself because of some obscure past hurt. But he may also be Henry, and they both share much in common with Lila (Naomi Watts), Sam’s would be fiancée. And it all has something to do with a car wreck on the Brooklyn Bridge. Sam is on a quest to understand Henry in order to save him, but in so doing he also finds himself on a quest to understand himself, and the world around him. The farther he is drawn into Henry’s problems, the more time and space collapse around him as he tries to discover what his place in the world is, in a world that no longer makes a great deal of sense.
The same events keep happening every day. No one changes their clothes or their appearance in any noticeable way. The same faces keep appearing, first as one person and then as another. And yet the days inexorably pass by, closer and closer to Henry’s intended self-execution. Vague connections fill the void – from Sam’s blind mentor (Bob Hoskins) who is the spitting image of Henry’s dead father, to the engagement ring Sam can’t quite give Lila, which is exactly the same as the ring Henry has lost.
A bit lost amidst the more pointed thoughts on humanity, the film also poses some questions on the nature of the mind in describing the universe and what reality is and how it connects people together, as characters remember and are influenced by things that they didn’t experience and never really happened, except in someone’s imagination. The universe is both smaller and larger than anyone realizes; it’s so random that it isn’t. And beneath it all is an overwhelming sense of loss, and an urge to connect to other people – to stay together – at least for a little while. When the world has stopped making sense, the only thing left to hold onto is each other.
It is both straightforward and abstract, using cinematic tricks to put the audience in Sam/Henry’s headspace. The result is a bit a sense of intentional vertigo that may cloud the films ultimately humanist point. Sam’s place is by Henry’s side, trying to help him. Whether that help is ultimately fruitful doesn’t matter, it’s the attempt that does. The decision to try and help someone, to reach out. It’s a profound and uplifting statement on the connections of humanity and how we drift through life seemingly alone, when in truth we never are, and never have been.