We’ve finally done it, we’ve destroyed the earth. Skyscrapers have been reduced to piles of rubble. The once clean air is clouded with dust and debris. Man and machine warred together for dominance and, in the end, we destroyed one another. There is no life, no beauty; all that is left are residual elements of a once thriving civilization heaped in junk piles that litter the landscape.
But wait— something stirs. Amidst all the carnage, skeletal remains, and metal fragments, a little being emerges. He’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before; he’s not a machine, but he’s not human either. One thing is for sure, though. He’s sentient.
We begin the movie looking at the world through the newly awakened eyes of our first little stitchpunk friend who is known by the name of 9. Crafted from burlap-like cloth and intricate internal mechanisms, 9 is certainly a scientific wonder. Even more so because we soon learn that 9 has been imbued with the soul of a scientist.
The fuzzy back-story is that 9 is the 9th, and final, creation of a scientist who saw how the world would end before it finally came to its demise. In an effort to ensure all humanity did not die, the scientist somehow (this is never fully or satisfactorily explained) was able to take his own soul, thus killing himself, and place it within the bodies of his 9 little creations.
We soon learn that our 9 stitchpunks are not the only creatures crawling the earth, either. Unintentionally 9 manages to awaken the soul-sucking Spider-Bot who played a large part in the destruction of mankind and the world. Now the fate of humanity rests within the mechanical claws of our rag-tag band of ragdolls.
It’s going to be a vicious fight for survival.
The stitchpunks believe in taking care of each other, although that manifests in different ways for the different numeral characters in our story. Several of them risk their lives for one another, and several give their lives so that the others might live.
Interestingly enough, this film tries (with not as much success as I would have liked) to challenge the question of what defines humanity. The movie attributes humanity to the soul, the ability to think, feel, and discern between right and wrong. It points out that the soul is special, it is a gift.
9 is an endearing character, from his steampunk appearance to his inheritance of some of the best parts of the scientist’s soul. Throughout the movie, 9 is motivated by protecting the others and learning new things. In fact, there is a clear contrast between 1 and 9. 9 will go to great lengths to save his friends, 1 will go to great lengths to ignore the dangerous outside world. 9 wants to right wrongs, 1 wants to hide and pretend there are none. 9 seeks knowledge and understanding, 1 mocks him for it. 9 offers his life for others; 1 sacrifices the life of one of the others.
This wasn’t given a PG-13 for a no reason. The movie has no sexual content, no language, no crude humor, and no drugs or alcohol, but don’t let its innocent animated package fool you; Tim Burton’s film is no child’s movie.
In Burtonesk style this film is dark. Very dark. I’m not just talking about the color palate, either, which is undeniably oppressive. I’m talking about the tone of the movie, too.
The metal minions controlled by the Spider-Bot not only are frightening, but they are gruesome. Even as an adult I was disturbed by the nightmarish mechanisms that prowl through the film. The bone/machine dog named The Beast was edgy, but the doll-headed, snake-like corpse stealer was beyond edgy. It was downright horrifying.
You see, the machine’s appearances and metal slashing claws aren’t really what disturbs me. What really disturbs me is the fact that this “kid’s” movie contains creations like the doll snake who captures the fallen stitchpunks, reanimates their corpses, and draws the others into its trap before it slashes and smother’s them, using them as its newest bate to lure the others.
The machines in 9 don’t just stalk our little friends, they ruthlessly slash, skewer, and mangle the stitchpunks. In fact, throughout the movie we see the numeral characters restitching their body parts back together.
Perhaps even more disturbing is that the ultimate villain in the movie, the Spider-Bot, sucks the life out of our stitchpunks. Literally. Using the talisman, the Spider-Bot draws the green energy out of their bodies, through their eyes and mouth, before the stitchpunks drop lifelessly to the ground.
Violence obviously plays a large part in this film, both on the initiating and receiving end.
The magic element to this story is very akin to alchemy. The stitchpunks are segmented elements of the dead scientist’s soul. We are told that the transferring of his soul was achieved through scientific ability, but what we are shown is a very dark, very occultic science. You see, there is a little device used by the scientist to transfer his soul. On its metal exterior are engraved symbols that light up with an eerie green glow.
Other disturbing elements worth noting are the scientist’s dead body depicted in his home, and a human being shot down by one of the machines during a recounting of the end of the world.
The End Results
There is no blood, barely any human mortality that is witnessed, and all carnage done is to machines. That being said, this film is not a child’s fairy tale.
What this film offers audiences is a desolate world filled with no laughter. Throughout all the frightening images and darkness there is no levity to lift the soul. We are seeped in dystopianism that oddly enough holds some truth to it. Our world is fast approaching the age when we will no longer be able to contain our technology.
We are given this timely message in the end: “This world is ours now; it’s what we make of it.” So says 9 when all is said and done. The film warns us that science is an amazing gift, but if not used correctly, can be our undoing. As the Scientist says: “We had such potential. Such promise. But we squandered our gifts, our intelligence. Our blind pursuit of technology only sped us quicker to our doom. Our world is ending.”
Not a bad message.
While I think the truth this movie tries to offer us in the end is worth listening too, I also feel like we had to go through a minefield in order to find this truth. With all the smoke and debris floating around, it is hard to see the message, and it is a dangerous journey to get to the prize. For these reasons I do not recommend 9 as a family friendly movie.