A train in New York City carries passengers to work, including Veronika Deklava (Sarah Michelle Gellar
). We see Veronika walking the streets of Manhattan, working at her job, meeting a young man for a drink afterward, and finally going home. During this time, she gives a voiceover as if talking to a psychiatrist who she thinks will put her on antidepressants, and she gives a prediction of her life all the way to her old age.
At home, Veronika pours herself a drink and takes a number of prescription medications out of her bathroom medicine cabinet. She arranges the bottles in a line on her coffee table, and then lays out a number of pills. Putting on some music, Veronika swallows the pills one by one, washing them down with her drink.
As the pills take effect, Veronika starts to type out an email to her parents, ominously telling them that none of what is about to happen, is their fault. Deleting the email, she picks up a fashion magazine and instead begins to type out an email to the Village Voice, lambasting them over a fashion slogan she sees as a lie. In the email Veronika lashes out at media and corporate misleading of the public to things that Veronika believes, really matter in life... and that she's committing suicide as the only viable escape from a world she sees as unreal.
But in signing her real name, Veronika has not reckoned with the power of the internet. Within minutes, viewers have shared and spread the email, and traced it back to her, and a man is banging on her door even as she collapses in her living room. Bursting into the apartment, the man bends over Veronika, feeling for a pulse, and yells for 911 to be called. The unconscious Veronika is hurried to a hospital where doctors work feverishly to save her life.
Veronika is brought to a private care facility called Villette. As the ambulance brings her in, a young man named Edward (Jonathan Tucker
) is sitting in a tree. Orderlies come to bring him to be seen by Villette's director, Dr. Blake (David Thewlis
). Edward pauses to give a curious glance at Veronika as she lies, still asleep, on a gurney that is extracted from the ambulance to be brought to a bed.
Dr. Blake tells Edward that his father's annual visit is next week, and he asks Edward if he's made any progress. Edward merely stares straight ahead, not speaking, not looking directly at Dr. Blake.
Veronika awakens, immediately noting her suicide has been stopped and she's still alive. Finding her wrists are strapped to the bed's side rails, she starts to struggle against the restraints until a nurse sedates her. A short time later, she's being seen by Dr. Blake and another psychiatrist at the facility, Dr. Thompson (Florencia Lozano
). On being told where she is, Veronika smiles cynically. She does answer a few questions, including that she works at a high paying job as an assistant accounts executive, and that her parents are Slovenian, although Veronika is American born. When she cuts to the chase and asks how long the facility plans to hold her, Dr. Thompson says there is some pretty difficult news in store: her suicide attempt caused her heart to stop, resulting in a heart attack that damaged the blood vessels that brings blood into her heart. The damage is inoperable, and worse, it will result in a coronary artery bursting within a week; two at most. This will result in Veronika's death. Dr. Blake tells her that she'll receive regular injections for her heart with the hopes that her final days will be as pleasant as Villette can make them.
Veronika is sedated again and wheeled through the halls of Villette on a gurney. Edward pauses again to look at her, and as Veronika awakens, she looks sleepily back at him. Edward goes to his room, moves a dresser away from the wall and opens a vent cover behind which he's hidden some drawing pads and a small notebook or journal. He leafs through them, showing a number of sketches and a few photographs, including a young black woman.
Veronika awakens again to find she's been moved to a room in Villette. Her room mate is a young woman named Claire (Erika Christensen
). Claire begins to tell Veronika a story about a wizard who wanted to destroy a kingdom, and so he drove all the subjects mad. The king and queen decided to submit themselves to the same madness and were able to continue ruling in peace. Claire sums the story up by revealing it as a parable: Veronika can pass herself off as anyone or anything she desires by learning to act and behave the same as those around her. Claire is shown not to be so crazy or disturbed after all, but merely a good conformist. When Claire reveals that a number of patients have overheard that Veronika is due to die soon, Veronika says she doesn't want to be made to wait, and asks if there's any way she can acquire a means to finalize her intended suicide.
Claire takes Veronika on a walk around the garden and points out a patient named Mari (Melissa Leo
) who has been at Villette longer than anyone. This has earned her the privilege of refusing to take medication if she doesn't feel like it, and Claire says Mari is close to Dr. Blake. Mari is a former lawyer until she lost her job and her marriage (to another lawyer) and had a breakdown. Claire cautions Veronika that she has to earn Mari's good favor, and Mari will only speak to Veronika if she feels like it. If Mari warms to Veronika, she will be able to help Veronika acquire pills to overdose on.
Veronika notices Edward sitting a distance away, and Claire tells Veronika that Edward was in some kind of accident, and had stopped talking after recovering. He was 'dumped' here a few years ago, and hardly responds in any way, to anyone, except perhaps Mari, who seems protective of him.
Veronika is in Dr. Blake's office, and he tells her that her parents have come to Villette to see her. Veronika is horrified, refusing to speak to her parents. Dr. Blake tries to tell her to see them, but also says he didn't tell them about Veronika's condition-- aside from doctor-patient confidentiality, he simply feels it should be up to her.
Veronika's parents tell Dr. Blake that Veronika was always successful, always made a lot of friends, and they always thought she was happy, but of course, she couldn't be if she tried to commit suicide. In trying to convince himself that Villette will be a good place for Veronika to recover, he mentions have seen a very nice piano at the facility. Despite Veronika's attempts to downplay it, her parents say she was an excellent pianist, able to play Mozart, Bach and Debussy, and in fact had even won a scholarship to Julliard... but her parents pressured her to attend a more business-oriented college so she could earn a good living. Dr. Blake asks Veronika if she has anything else to say to her parents; a hint for her to tell them she is dying. But Veronika stays silent. Veronika lets her parents hug her on their way out, but looks shaken afterward, and Dr. Blake merely watches as she stomps heavily out of the office. In one of the halls, Veronika starts to feel short of breath and faint, and wonders if this is it; whether her time has finally run out. She falls unconcsious to the floor, but wakes up in a bed with Dr. Blake watching over her. She'd merely fainted from an anxiety attack, and Dr. Blake says he's going to make some adjustments in her medication.
Veronika goes into Villette's common room where she hears the sound of chatter and uproarious laughter. She finds to her dismay that a news program is discussing her attempted suicide and the suicide note she sent to the Village Voice. One participant in the news discussion considers Veronika to be seriously crazy, and many of the people at Villette watching the program, are laughing because they agree with this assessment. One patient, Old Fred (Matthew Cowles
) starts to repeatedly call Veronika, 'nutty as a fruitcake.' When he calls Veronika this to her face, she slaps him in outrage. To Veronika's surprise, and perhaps also, to her disappointment, Fred doesn't react to the slap. When she challenges him to yell at her or even hit her back, he merely responds that she won't be around much longer-- meaning he doesn't think she's worth it. Veronika walks away in a daze.
Impressed, Mari begins to follow Veronika and strikes up some small talk. Veronika doesn't waste words-- she says that she understands Mari can help her get her hands on pills. Veronika tells Mari she wants to die on her own terms, nobody else's. Mari seems to think on the plea for a few moments, then she tells Veronika about the medicine closet, and that it is unmanned and unguarded for a few moments when there is a change in employee shifts around dinner time, at 7 pm.
Veronika begins watching and timing this change in shifts on a watch, memorizing the opening. While still making preparations, one day she walks through the garden and notices Edward squatting close to the ground, watching ants go into and out of an entrance to their underground warrens. She asks him how he can stand being in Villette. Edward doesn't respond, and Veronika walks away quickly when a nurse starts calling out to Edward to bring him in for treatment.
Villette staff call patients for dinner. Veronika is ready to make her move. She makes it into the medicine closet and grabs one of the bottles, pouring all the pills into her mouth. But a nurse spots Veronika going to the sink and hurries to pull her away from the water, pressing on pressure points along Veronika's throat to compel her to spit out every pill before she can swallow any of them.
Veronika is unrepentant with Dr. Blake, defiant at his refusal to cooperate in her continued attempts to kill herself. When Dr. Blake asks Veronika to tell him about her hatred for him, she starts to lash out also at her parents for spending the outlandish fees to keep Veronika at Villette, as well as her colleagues at work for thinking they're very important because of the money they earn-- and she hates all the commuters she sees traveling around the city for giving up their dreams and then forgetting they had any. Dr. Blake tells Veronika that he sees this as a sign that she's feeling better and is recovering.
Dr. Blake suddenly asks Veronika if she's heard the story about the king and the poisoned well. Veronika smiles cynically on realizing he's the one who told the story to Claire as an analogy of what is real and perceived to be real, and how belief by enough people can define reality. Veronika is now convinced Dr. Blake is the king in the story, and has made himself as mad as all the other inmates. Blake, however, shows he's cagier than Veronika had anticipated, cornering her on accusing the fashion industry of pushing pathological and dehumanizing values on society. He catches Veronika almost laughing sheepishly even as she tries to defend herself. Unable to admit her defeat, Veronika storms out of the office.
Dr. Thompson is in an administrative office late in the evening with Nurse Josephine (Rena Owen
), discussing Veronika. Dr. Thompson starts to reminisce about another woman who was at Villette three years ago, named Sandra Berowitz, who was brought in because of a heroin habit and found to have a heart problem. There was an issue with State Health Services over her. Dr. Thompson asks Nurse Josephine to pull any printed records on Sandra, that are still available at Villette.
Veronika goes to the room with the piano one rainy evening. At first, she simply slaps her hands aimlessly about the keys, producing discordant, grating chords. After working out her anger this way, she begins to play classical music; a beautiful melody. As she plays, she notices Edward standing outside in the rain, watching her. Veronika continues playing, and looks back at Edward as she finishes. Edward appears to start to smile before hurrying away. Veronika, still watching, smiles back after him.
Mari is in Dr. Blake's office, talking with him. She's aware that Edward has noticed Veronika, and she and Dr. Blake talk about it. Dr. Blake thinks Mari is close to finally leaving Villette and wants to see a happy ending for Edward once she's no longer around to watch over him. Mari doesn't see much future between Edward and a suicidal girl who is so close to dying, anyway. But Dr. Blake points out that Edward can't lose Veronika unless he grows attached enough to want to hang on to her... and if Edward manages to accomplish just that attachment, Dr. Blake will consider it to be not only Edward's great accomplishment yet, but Dr. Blake's own, as well.
A lawyer for the Village Voice goes to Villette to speak to Dr. Blake and Dr. Thompson about Veronika. Despite the Voice rep's well-crafted words, Dr. Blake sees through the pitch as a desire to interview Veronika or possibly schedule her for a public appearance of sort that will be intended only to preserve the Voice's own reputation. Dr. Blake sternly tells the Voice's lawyer that he won't allow them to approach Veronika. As a last resort, the lawyer brings up the Sandra Berowitz case, State Board of Health inquiries on Villette, and patients' families questioning unorthodox and controversial methods of treatment at Villette, as a blackmail tactic. Dr. Blake, however, finds the proper counterattack, pointing out that many family members are simply unhappy that not all mentally ill patients can be brought back to proper stability or functionality, because mental illness itself cannot be cured; furthermore, he insists he has nothing to hide from the public, so any threats the lawyer makes about 'exposing' him, he has no fear of.
Veronika passes by the main entrance to Villette and sees Claire standing there with her bags and wearing a coat, until a nurse comes to bring her to the day room. Edward suddenly comes up behind Veronika and puts a hand on her forearm. Although touched, Veronika sadly says she doesn't feel like playing the piano right now, and walks away. Veronika goes to sit with Claire, to see if she's okay.
During recreational time at the swimming pool, Mari tells Veronika that a teacher from the spiritual arts of Sufi is coming to Villette that evening to hold a class and seminar, and invites Veronika to attend. She says that before Veronika dies, it would be good for her to see how far she can go.
During the Sufi session, Veronika instead goes to the piano room again, and finds Edward standing by it, as if waiting for her. Their eyes are locked on each other as she sits. She begins to play a melody full of passion. Although she had closed the door, the tune carries so that Mari can hear. As the Sufi teacher begins speaking of how the true sense of self is not what others make of it, Mari stares at her hands, listens to the piano melody, and suddenly gets up to leave the room.
Veronika finishes her melody, and hears the sound of a door closing sharply. She and Edward both turn to glance toward the door to the piano room, before Veronika returns her gaze to Edward. Suddenly she begins to disrobe in front of him. She reaches a hand out toward his, but Edward slowly draws his hand back, away from hers. Veronika runs her hand down the front of her body, down between her legs, and starts masturbating. Outside, Mari draws close to the room, and listens to Veronika's moans of pleasure. Mari looks deeply worried as she hears Veronika climaxing.
Veronika tells Edward that she could fall in love with him right there, even if he doesn't say anything. Edward suddenly leaves the room; Veronika turning to look as he leaves.
The next morning, Dr. Blake finds Veronika waiting for him outside his office, looking for his help. She says she's feeling much better, although Dr. Blake says she doesn't look it. Veronika says she's ready to do what he tells her, but she needs to know how much time she has left before she dies. She asks Dr. Blake to do two things for her: A dose of any medication that will keep her awake, and to be released from Villette. She's formed a bucket list of things she desperately wants to do while she's still alive: go to the beach, feel the surf on her feet, eat a taco at her favorite taco stand, and order a Guinness at an Irish pub. Whatever time she has left, she needs to live it. This causes Dr. Blake to muse on the nature of desire vs. fear; how many people have replaced almost all their emotions with fear. Few people realize their dreams, and it makes cowards of everyone else. Veronika asks, even if the few are right? And Dr. Blake says, especially then.
Edward is looking out over the river, and his mouth is starting to open, as if he's trying to speak, when another patient comes up to talk about something nonsensical. Edward puts a hand on his arm as a gesture of comforting him.
Mari and Dr. Blake are speaking, and Mari thinks maybe it's time for Dr. Blake himself to leave Villette and live more of his life. When Dr. Blake insists he's helping people, Mari asks how much help it is to give Veronika the will to live again, just when it's too late to do her any good, all in the name of research; even if Edward seems to be benefiting. When Dr. Blake says that Veronika's life, and death, will mean something if she can help Edward by giving him the illusion that he's helping her, through love, Mari is shocked at how small a consolation Dr. Blake is clinging to. Mari then makes the announcement that she intends to leave Villette; she's been offered a job in a legal aid office helping poor defendants, and there's a park nearby where she can bring lunch. She gives Dr. Blake a card with the office address and says she'll be staying with her sister until she can get her own place. She invites him to join her in the park one day, and he says that if his schedule lets up, perhaps he will. As she leaves, Mari tells Dr. Blake not to hide in Villette forever, and calls him by his first name, Alex.
Veronika passes by Mari's room, and offers to help her pack her things. Mari says Veronika's piano playing helped her come to her decision; she believes Veronika played with so much soul because she knew her death was imminent, and it made Mari need to recover her own soul; one she lost to a husband, job and house that she never had the courage to leave. Now, she can feel it again. Mari tells Veronika many people never find a single moment like the one she had last night.
As a taxi comes to pick up Mari, she sees Edward coming toward her. She gives him an emotional hug and kiss on the cheek, goodbye.
Veronika passes by Edward's room, where's he's sketching something furiously on a pad. Nurse White comes by to take Edward for his treatment.
As Nurse White is leading Edward to the treatment room, he lets go of her hand, and suddenly speaks his first words in the whole movie: that he needs to leave Villette. Nurse White backpedals, dumbfounded on hearing Edward speak, and calls for assistance. Orderlies, patients, and Dr. Thompson all congregate in the area, orderlies mistakenly thinking Edward needs to be sedated, and he resists. Veronika finds her way there and there is a lull in the mass excitement. Edward whispers to Veronika that she's important to him. Dr. Thompson calls for calm and asks Edward to come with her. Veronika says she's coming along; Dr. Thompson allows this, but has Veronika wait just outside the treatment room.
As Veronika watches Edward sleep, Claire comes by. The fact that a dying woman is watching a man sleep, Claire is certain it means that Veronika is in love with Edward. Edward awakens and merely looks at Veronika; she wonders if he remembers any of what happened. But as Veronika sheds a sad tear, Edward suddenly says her name.
The two are walking through the grounds that evening. Edward talks about having been a law student when he was 19, and he was in love-- with the dark-skinned woman whose photograph was in Edward's notebook. Edward's father was furious that his son was seriously involved in an interracial relationship, and tried to sabotage it. So when Edward's girlfriend became pregnant, he stole his father's car, and he and his girlfriend ran away, heading west. Late at night, in driving rains, Edward's car ran into a truck. His girlfriend was killed immediately. Even after Edward recovered from his physical injuries, his guilt became too much; he didn't speak or eat because of the trauma. If he'd listened to his father, he'd reasoned, the woman he loved would still be alive. And so, his father quietly deposited him in Villette, as to not be an embarrassment to the father any longer. He thought he'd never be able to get out of Villette, and then Veronika arrived. Edward leans in and kisses her, and suddenly says he knows how to escape Villette without anyone seeing, and offers to take her along. Veronika reminds Edward she has very little time left to live, but Edward just kisses her again.
The two execute their plan the next morning, taking only one small bag. Dr. Blake is seen looking out a window; it's not shown whether he sees them. Edward picks a lock and slides the gate open. As he and Veronika make their escape, Dr. Blake sits at his desk and takes a paper out of the drawer; the one on which Mari gave him her business address and phone number.
Edward and Veronika make their way to a train leading back into New York City proper. In Manhattan, they see some sites and stop at the taco stand to eat. Veronika then brings Edward back to her apartment, and she has sex with him. That evening they go to a pub, where Veronika has a Guinness. She dances with Edward as Irish folk music plays on the radio.
It's the very early hours of the morning, and Edward and Veronika sit on a bench on a pier. Veronika wants to watch the sunrise. As dawn starts to break, Veronika's head slowly drops to her shoulder and she closes her eyes. Edward becomes alarmed, calling her name, but she is unresponsive. Edward looks out over the river and cries; Veronika's time has run out.
Or has it?
A voiceover from Dr. Blake reads out a letter he's left for Dr. Thompson. In the letter, he tells her that he's placing her in charge of Villette, hoping she'll run the facility with the same dedication he did. Dr. Blake then reveals he knew that Dr. Thompson was investigating his handling of Veronika, and reveals his winning finesse in her treatment plan-- Dr. Blake lied to her about the aneurysm; placing her name on a copy of the echocardiogram taken of Sandra Berowitz. Veronika's heart function is, in fact, normal. Dr. Blake planned on telling her in a couple of days that the treatments had miraculously repaired the damage to her heart, but in light of her departure from Villette-- he had, in fact, watched her and Edward escape-- that became unnecessary.
On the pier, Veronika awakens from a nap, to Edward's great joy and relief.
Dr. Blake's voiceover to Dr. Thompson continues: he knew Veronika would continue attempting suicide until she finally succeeded, and there was only one remedy he had any faith in: awareness of life, giving Veronika the will to live. Until she finally catches on that she's lived longer than the time she was given, has herself examined, and finds out she's perfectly healthy, each day will be a miracle to her-- something Dr. Blake believes truly is one.
A closing montage of scenes shows Dr. Blake joining Mari in the park for coffee; Claire contentedly playing checkers with herself back at Villette, and Veronika, barefoot, trotting happily along the beach with Edward, toward the surf.