Stay (2005) : Movie Plot Explained Explained

Saw this one more recently. Not sure how it slipped me in 2005. Possibly I was partying a little too much in Bangalore. This one stars Ewan McGregor (of Obi Wan fame), Ryan Gosling (from Drive) and Naomi Watts (she did King Kong the same year). The story is about a Psychiatrist by the name Sam (McGregor) who’s a substitute shrink for Henry (Gosling). He’s in a relationship with a prior patient of his Laila (Naomi). Henry tells Sam that he plans of committing suicide in 3 days. Thus starts Sam’s efforts to get Henry to drop the idea. Let’s stop for a bit here and jump down to the explanation of what the film was about. If you haven’t watched it, I suppose you should watch before reading. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Stay explained.

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Stay Movie: Plot Explained

There are two stories in the movie. I’ll call them “The Real” and “The Imagined”.

The Real

Henry, his dad, mom and girlfriend are on the Brooklyn Bridge. Henry is driving the car. His car’s front tyre bursts and the car flips into a massive tumble and blows up. This is the start of the movie. Now cut to the end. Henry’s dad, mom and girlfriend are all dead. Henry is barely alive. There is a lady (by the name Elizabeth Levy) who says she was right behind the accident. She also says – I didn’t touch him; I know you’re not supposed to move them. He’s attended to by Sam a doctor and Laila a nurse. Sam and Laila have never met, they are just there offering help (Yes, they have never met).

They try to keep him alive till the ambulance gets to them. There are a whole bunch of bystanders watching Henry’s situation. Henry apologises for what he has done. He feels he has resulted in the death of his family. Sam tells him that the fault was not Henry’s as the tyre blew and nothing could have been done. Henry sees his girlfriend in the face of the nurse Laila and proposes to her. Laila says yes because she knows what is happening. Henry is fading away and is filled with guilt of what he’s done. Sam and Laila do their best but can do nothing but watch Henry die. The ambulance arrives, clears up the place. Sam asks Laila for a coffee as they both feel they will not be able to sleep anyways. The movie ends.

stay explained

What? Then what about the whole movie you ask? The entire film apart from the Brooklyn Bridge accident, is what is…

The Imagined

After the accident, Henry’s mind is drawing up a more elaborate story. His mind draws on the characters that are present as bystanders watching him lying on the bridge. Since Sam and Laila are the ones helping him stay alive, his mind makes Sam his shrink. (Eliza)Beth Levy, who is the first one to see the accident from “The Real” segment, backs off after Sam steps in. Henry’s mind makes Beth Levy his first shrink and Sam her replacement. He imagines Laila as Sam’s girlfriend. The neighbour’s crying baby is simply a baby in a nearby car from “The Real”

Henry claims to have killed both his parents and is upset that he set fire to his car (this is the reference to the car blowing up in “The Real”). Henry explains how he is always hearing voices. Henry repeats the voices he’s hearing. These are nothing more than conversations that the bystanders are having in the “The Real”. Henry tells Sam that he plans on committing suicide in three days, when he turns 21.

Later Sam is playing chess with his blind mentor Leon. Leon is actually Henry’s father in “The Real”. This is why Henry freaks out looking at Leon and claim that he’s his father and is dead already.

Sam gets worried and tries to locate Beth Levy to find out more about Henry. Unable to find her anywhere he reaches her apartment where she’s sitting lost and wrapped in quilt. She says – I didn’t touch him; I know you’re not supposed to move them. This again is a dialogue in “The Real”.

Sam located Henry’s mother’s place where she lives with her dog. Henry’s mother confuses Sam for Henry. Then, bizarrely she starts bleeding and goes away, while the dog bites Sam. I’m not sure what the dog was doing there but Henry’s mom bleeding like that is basically a representation of how she had bled out in “The Real”. Sam then tries to explain to the cop that Henry’s mother is alive. The cop is nothing more than a bystander too in “The Real”. Notice Sam’s shot trousers? They are short in “The Imagined” because in “The Real”, Sam is sitting down and that causes his trousers to ride up.

Sam runs into Henry at his own house and there is a confusing altercation. Sam and Henry and arguing but are shown to swap roles. This is to give a hint to the audience that Sam and Henry are but one and the same. All of this is happening inside of Henry’s head.


Sam then tries to find Athena whom Henry was in love with. This is the girlfriend in “The Real”. She is in the reading of the play Hamlet. She agrees to take Sam to Henry but when Sam follows Athena down those painful winding stairs, he trips falls and loses her. When he goes back up, he sees the same scene of Athena reading the play Hamlet. This type of repeating sequences happen a couple of times earlier too. When Sam sees the same kid lose the balloon again. When he enters his house and hugs Laila and walks to the bed. All of this can be attributed to Henry’s brain shutting down in “The Real” because he’s losing so much blood.

Henry also happens to meet Leon and gets him his eye sight back and tells him he is his son. This scene is a little philosophical. It’s more about how he wants his father to see him for who he is. His guilt of killing his family in “The Real” has made his father turn a blind eye, literally, in “The Imagined”. This scene is Henry apologizing to his dad for his death. Didn’t make much sense, doesn’t matter, carry on.

From a bookstore that Henry frequently visits, Sam learns that Henry’s favourite artist had killed himself on his 21st birthday on the Brooklyn Bridge. This gives Sam the required clue and runs to the Brooklyn Bridge. Meanwhile, Henry is looking at some wedding rings and is intercepted by all the characters from “The Imagined”. Henry also starts bleeding from his head just like his mother does. All the characters in “The Imagined” are merely bystanders look on at Henry in “The Real”. In this scene, Henry is slowly perceiving what is actually happening.

Stay Movie: Ending Explained

All of this finally takes us to the scene where Henry and Sam are on the Brooklyn Bridge and Sam is telling Henry that this is all a dream. Henry puts the gun into his mouth and pulls the trigger. At this point “The Imagined” merges with “The Real”. In short “The Imagined” version is all cooked up in Henry’s dying head. Henry pulling the trigger in “The Imagined” is him giving up and dying in “The Real”.

What are those flashes that Sam sees when he asks Laila out for coffee?

Henry is proclaimed dead (no more pulse) but his brain cells are still dying away. Those flashes when Sam asks Laila for coffee are still what is happening in Henry’s head. Those are the last few flashes based on Sam asking Laila out.

So yeah, that’s how the cookie crumbles. I think it was a pretty good film directed by Marc Forster. It’s not too had to guess where the movie is headed. There have been other similar ones before. Hope that helped following the movie. If you liked this film and if you haven’t watched Jacob’s Ladder (1990), I suggest you do that straight away.