The film is divided into three main sections with actors playing a different role each time. Themes, people, plot threads and, of course, the central motif of 9 overlap throughout to finally culminate in a tale of creator, creation, choice, fate, and fantasy.
The three sections are:
- The Prisoner: An actor is placed under house arrest after going on a self-destructive bent because of his most recent breakup. Making the most of it, he makes nice with his publicist and his flirty next door neighbor until he starts noticing that not everything is what it seems...
- Reality Television: A reality TV series follows a young writer who is struggling to get his newly conceived show on the air. Eventually he is faced with choosing between the airing of his creation and the promise made to his best friend.
- Knowing: A famed video game designer's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. His wife and daughter stay behind as he goes out to seek help.
This film contains examples of the following tropes:
- Amnesiac God: Both the premise and The Reveal.
Sierra: So you play a lot of characters?Gabriel: Well, a couple. Most people do.Sierra: But you're not most people. You created the world. You know all the secret codes.Gabriel: Like God Mode?
- Several of the conversations between Ryan Reynold's characters and Hope Davis' characters hint towards Reynold's characters being a single deity. This one is between Gabriel, the video game designer and the woman he finds walking down the road. They begin to talk about video games.
- Humanity Is Infectious: "G" falls in love with his creation, and has been slumming it among humanity ever since. So much to the point of even forgetting that he is a god.
- I Am Who?: Essentially the central mystery of the film. It turns out the main character is some sort of demi-god who created the entire universe and chose to live among humanity, acting out different roles.
- It Was All A Dream: Averted. While demanding Margaret for the truth, Gary is asked if he has any theories. Gary quickly postulates that he's in either in a dream, a coma, or purgatory. She reveals that he's wrong on all counts.
- Numerological Motif: The number nine, of course. It is most prominent during "The Prisoner", but it's all over the film.
- Our Gods Are Different: They're extra-dimensional beings who can raise and raze entire universes in a thought.Gary: Are you saying I'm God?Margaret: Technically, no. If God is a ten, a theoretical ultimate, that which-no-greater-can-be-imagined, you're more of a nine.
"G": You guys kill each other a lot.Mary: In fairness, it's usually in your name.
- Despite that, it's heavily implied throughout the film that "G" is the Judeo-Christian God, as "S" points out one of the roles "G" played was "messiah". In addition, there's this exchange toward the end of the film,
- Shout Out: One to Stephen King's very own Misery.Margaret: I'm a fan of yours, you know. Your number one fan. But if you fuck this up. (squeezes his ankles) I'll smash your ankles with a sledgehammer!
- Title Drop: Curiously, the subtitles ("The Prisoner", "Reality Television", "Knowing") are never mentioned, but "the nines" is dropped in each of the three sections of the film.
- Wham Line: After the fairly mindscrew-y "The Prisoner," "Reality Television" unfolds like a realistic documentary... Until Gavin storms out onto the street and tells the camera man to stop filming him.Pedestrian: Who are you talking to?