THE TRANSFORMATION OF 1 — (SPOILERS)
Arguably one of the most intriguing pieces of symbolism in Shane Acker’s 9 is the reflection of 1’s inner transformation through the gradual loss of his outward adornments. Having placed himself for so long as the stitchpunk clan’s stubborn protector and leader, he’s suddenly thrust into conflict and insecurity by the coming of 9. The newcomer’s fresh views on the world threaten to not only unravel the established order, but also to unravel 1 himself.
Slowly, throughout the film, his garments are lost or removed in tandem with the changes he experiences emotionally and mentally. He’s forced to give up his jeweled cape and staff, at 9’s command, in order to save himself and the others from The Winged Beast. In this brief moment of desperation, he acknowledges that 9 is right and does as he’s told despite their many disagreements. And when he later finds himself ambushed by The Seamstress, he loses the penny decorating his crown. It happens just as he’s faced with the ramifications of his betrayal of 2, overwhelmed with fear and remorse upon seeing his dead body. These two instances alone are quite telling of 1’s conflict of identity and his struggle between right and wrong.
But most interesting, perhaps, is the final stage of his physical metamorphosis, in which his last remaining badge of office, his crown, is forfeit not by force or weakness, but by his own choice. Even with such limited expression, we can see in this simple action that he’s finally come to realize his place among the stitchpunk clan. He recognizes himself as a “bitter old pill” who flagrantly abused his power, blinded by his own arrogance and cowardice, and he knows now that he must let go of his position of leadership and pass it on to the younger and wiser; he must pass leadership to 9. We now see him for what he truly is, a tired old general who turned his back on his men, now left empty and without purpose.
But despite all that he’s lost, despite all the mistakes he made, he still has a soul, and we see this when he’s finally been stripped down to his bare essence. He was scared and weak and did horrible things to his fellow stitchpunks, but beneath that layer he’s just as human as the rest of them, and just as worthy of forgiveness. He may have strayed far down the wrong path, but in the end he manages to find his way back to the right one, even if it did take some inner turmoil to get there. And he sacrifices so much, including his own life, to prove that.