The 9th Life of Louis Drax
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay written by: Max Minghella
Based on the the novel of the same name by: Liz Jensen
Stars: Jamie Dornan, Aiden Longworth, Sarah Gadon
Mystery. Thriller. Tragedy. The Supernatural.
This story of the troubled, accident prone child Louis Drax weaves these genres masterfully. Director Alexandre Aja (Horns, Maniac) creates a film that plunges the viewer in to an alternate realm where we are led to investigate the motivations of a powerful force – the subconscious mind. The film is adapted by actor, filmmaker and screenwriter Max Minghella (Agora, The Two Faces of January) from the novel by best-selling author Liz Jensen and produced by Minghella and his partners, including Aja. The creative team executes this adaptation of Jensen’s thriller novel very well, amplifying the scary inherent in the story.
Little Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) appears fragile and ethereal, apt for a boy who has survived eight near death experiences. He clings to his beautiful mother, Natalie Drax (Sarah Gadon), a pale porcelain doll whose wistful blue eyes contain secrets. Troubled stepfather Peter Drax (Aaron Paul) provides tension and suspense throughout the film, always simmering and ready to boil over. An odd love triangle is created by the introduction of Dr. Pascal (Jamie Dornan) a brilliant pediatric neurologist with his own tension: a dissolving marriage. The intricacies of human emotional life, the interplay of desires and the enthralling leap in to psychosis ultimately hooks the viewer as we plunge in to the murky abyss of Louis Drax’s mind.
What power the brain holds, and how much cerebral ability still remains undiscovered and unexplained by modern science; these mysteries lay a strong foundation for the willing suspension of disbelief. The 9th Life of Louis Drax gains this suspension, granting the viewer a way to journey in to the layers of irrational, nonsensical human behavior; of actions wrapped in enigma, characters’ banter tied up with riddles… answers ultimately revealed through the inherently dumb cruelty of the antagonist, doing what leads so many criminals to get caught: leaving clues.
Rapport is established immediately with young Louis, who has survived so much just to reach his ninth birthday, and truly we want him to be okay. That Murphy’s Law seems to be in full effect in Louis daily life creates the logical conclusion that all is not well with the adults around him, that a powerful psychosis is at work in the Drax household. This intensifies the tension of what would otherwise be mundane and normal interaction between his parents. Natalie is a vision of loveliness, however her Stepford wife exterior conflicts with her personality. She oscillates between having the absent gaze of the “deer in headlights” and the intense emotional ferocity of a vixen intent on eroding her husband’s sanity until he is compliant. Aaron Paul is brilliantly cast as Peter Drax, we assume malice from his character even without evidence just by merit of his sharp eyed visage.
As Louis is lost in a coma and Peter is estranged, the main plot turns to Natalie’s subtle manipulations of neurologist Dr. Pascal. Dornan’s sexually frustrated doctor character throws off his mantle of medical discipline and professionalism in the vicinity of the femme fatale Natalie. That he is so cavalier does not go unnoticed, and adds to both the status he holds in the coma ward as well as amongst his peers. Dr. Pascal is ultimately the most creatively developed of all the characters, alongside Louis. Both the boy and the doctor have delved in to one the most difficult aspects of human experience – loss of voluntary motion, loss of bodily control and function. Louis is in a coma. Dr. Pascal’s history with sleepwalking is well promoted as a basis for his TED Talk, a subject he has included in books he has authored; this history reasserts itself and twists into the story. Reality breaks apart as the stresses of dealing with Louis Drax’s situation multiply for the adults around him.
The supernatural realm, which Louis inhabits and interacts with in his comatose state, bears mention… no spoilers here though. Metaphorically charged visuals boost the recurring theme of drowning, again touching on primal fears that grip human consciousness. The opening title sequence and the use of clever sound design elements help solidify this theme. The use of the supernatural and the subconscious both provide fertile ground for a story that brings the viewer in to deep dark emotional waters. Watching this story left a powerful take away: when the rational mind cannot find a way through fear, when neither harmony nor logic is present in a situation, the primal resources of instinct and superior intuition will be all that is left to come to our aid – so listen to the small voice within, as Louis Drax does.