A troubled young art student named Henry Letham (Gosling) miraculously survives a car accident on the Brooklyn Bridge. He goes to see a psychologist named Sam Foster (McGregor) and announces that he will kill himself in three days' time, on the eve of his twenty-first birthday. As Sam races to track down Henry and save his life, he finds his perspective on what's real and what isn't beginning to slip as he gets drawn into Henry's dark and frightening world.
Stay contains examples of the following tropes:
- All Just a Dream: Of the Dying Dream variety.
- Ambiguous Ending: The explanation the film gives is that the events of the film were created in the mind of a dying Henry Letham, but there are a number of details that suggest something else is going on. For example, at the end of the film, once the plot shifts outside of Henry's mind, several characters flashback to their lives in the dreamworld and Elizabeth Levy never said her name while Henry Letham was dying, but after he died she tells a police officer her name is Elizabeth Levy, so there's no way that Henry could have known about that and incorporated it into his dream world.
- Arc Number: 21.
- Ate His Gun: How Henry "kills himself".
- Driven to Suicide:
- The plot is set in motion by Henry announcing his intention to kill himself in three days' time. He eventually completes the suicide... sort of.
- Sam's girlfriend Lila attempted suicide in the past, but Sam saved her. He agonises over whether to propose to her in part because he fears she'll try again.
- Dying Dream: More or less the entire film is Henry's dream as he lies dying after a car accident which also killed his girlfriend and parents.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: Lots of plot relevant and interesting shots can only be seen for less than a second throughout the movie.
- Sanity Slippage: Throughout the film it's implied that Sam is slowly losing his mind.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Throughout the film it looks like Sam is losing his mind as the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred, but the end reveals that the whole film was Henry's Dying Dream.
- Whole Plot Reference: It's effectively a modern adaptation of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge".