Is the number nine having a Hollywood moment?
August has brought the release of "District 9," a sci-fi film about aliens landing in South Africa, and "Cloud 9," a German film about sex and infidelity among the elderly, both on the heels of June's stop-motion animated Israeli film "$9.99." Sept. 9 -- yes, that's 09/09/09 -- will see the release of "9," an animated apocalyptic thriller from producer Tim Burton. And on Nov. 25, Rob Marshall's screen adaptation of the Broadway musical "Nine" will arrive in theaters.
Is this proliferation of nines in movie titles a coincidence, or could it be part of a mystical master plan?
"Nine is considered the number of endings and the number of transformation and completion," says Kay Lagerquist, who ought to know; she co-wrote the book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Numerology." That, Lagerquist says, may explain the duration of pregnancy ("Nine months brings it to fullness, to fruition") and the number of Supreme Court justices ("Nine is the largest number, allowing you to transcend to a higher understanding").
These basic theories fit the premise of the animated film "9," in which mechanical "stitch-punk" creatures made by a scientist and named 1 through 9 are left to sort things out when Earth has been poisoned to the point that humanity is dying. "They're successive versions," explains "9" writer and director Shane Acker. "1 being the first and most primitive and 9 being the last and most advanced one the scientist made before he perished."
For John August, writer and director of the recent complex thriller "The Nines," the number represented the highest state of being a person can achieve. "In my movie, 'the nines' refers to being very close to being godlike. On a scale of one to 10, 10 is God." August used the number in various ways, dividing the film into three sections, three being the square root of nine. "One of the challenges in marketing the movie was to honor what it's about but not push it to that 'Brady Bunch' level," he says, describing an early poster mock-up with a grid of nine boxes, like on the TV show's opening.
Ultimately, August used "nine" because he liked the word: "Nine sounds really cool in English." In German, that same sound means "no." But "nein" is a word you don't hear much of in the German-language feature "Cloud 9," which opens with a rather explicit -- and passionate -- sex scene between a sexagenarian and a septuagenarian, who proceed to make like bunnies for the rest of the film. "Cloud 9," meaning a state of bliss, seems a pretty suitable title.
"District 9" is named for the township where an alien race has been brutally confined for 20 years, from which they will now be removed. Set against the backdrop of post-apartheid South Africa, the movie's "9" is an inversion of the name of the lawless Cape Town ward District 6, from which tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated in a "whites only" mandate of 1966.
According to Lagerquist, nines are bubbling to the surface now because "we're in a time of great transformation called the Great Turning." As has long been foreseen by philosophers, the Earth is changing on many fronts -- economically, spiritually, ecologically and otherwise.
"We're at the end of this first cycle of nine years under the new millennium," Lagerquist says. "So it's a time of things ending, transforming. Everybody's going through change. That's why I think these numbers are coming out."
"9" director Acker claims that his 09/09/09 release date was a lucky break.
"It just kind of fell into place," he says.
While it's hard to believe that Focus Features didn't work a little to land that date, Acker gets the benefit of the doubt on the matter of the similar titles.
"I made a short with the same title" -- the basis for his feature -- "back in 1999, if you can believe it. So it's fairly obvious to me that everyone's ripping me off," he jokes.
Of course, "Nine" has been around even longer. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1982 and was revived in 2003. It's based on Federico Fellini's 1963 classic "8 1/2 ," so called for the number of movies the main character, Guido Anselmi, has directed -- the half denoting a collaboration.
The musical ignores the half project and finds Anselmi approaching his 40th birthday and creatively blocked while at work on his ninth film.
Still, one has to wonder if all these nines aren't causing confusion in the marketplace, especially with "9" and "Nine." "['Nine'] couldn't be further from our movie" in terms of plot, explains Acker, who says there was a "conversation I wasn't privy to" among the producers of the two films, setting up a "two-month buffer" between the releases. (Neither Focus Features, which is distributing "9," nor the Weinstein Co., producers of "Nine," would comment).
Nevertheless, with settings as varied as Germany, South Africa, Israel and Italy, the 2009 movies with 9 in their titles seem to reflect a growing globalization of entertainment. Or perhaps it does add up to something a little more mystical.