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Friday, April 09, 2010

The Box

This week's movie rental was the 2009 science fiction/horror film The Box,. Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ...

The Box is a 2009 American science fiction–thriller/horror based on the 1970 short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson, which was previously adapted into an episode of the 1980s incarnation of The Twilight Zone. The film is written and directed by Richard Kelly and stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple who receive a box from a mysterious man who offers them one million dollars if they press the button sealed within the dome on top of the box.

- there are no rooms like this in my county library :)

The story takes place in 1976 in Virginia with a married couple, Arthur and Norma, and their small son Walter. One morning a box is left on their doorstep and they later learn that if they push the button on the box, they will get a million dollars but that consequently someone they don't know will die. The couple is in love and relatively well off, yet they remain unsatisfied .... Arthur works for NASA and had a hand in creating a camera for the Viking Mars mission, and Norma is a teacher in a private school, but Arthur's failed a psych test to become an astronaut and Norma has a deformed foot that makes it hard to walk. They agonize over whether to push the button and Norma finally decides to do so. Everything goes seriously south after that.

I don't want to give the plot away, and really I don't know if I could even if I wanted to, as I'm not completely sure what happened, but the movie managed to work in some interesting themes ..... Sartre's play about hell, No Exit, Arthur C. Clarke's third law of prediction, that Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and the idea of life on Earth as a purgatorial lab experiment pitting altruism against human frailty.

This was a very strange movie - I'm honestly not sure if it was very bad or strangely interesting. Ebert sort of liked it and gave it three stars out of four but it only rated 45% on the Tomatometer. It's odd, kind of like Dark City and The Forgotten, but perhaps not as good.

Here's the trailer ....

And here's part of Ebert's review .....


[...] "The Box" is based on the story of the same name by Richard Matheson, published by Playboy in 1970. It inspired a simpler adaptation for a Twilight Zone episode in 1986, which had a different ending but a very similar box design. Well, what can you do with a box with a button on top? Matheson, who has three films in pre-production at 83, has inspired or written at least 23 films ("I am Legend" has been made three times) and countless TV episodes.

Here he seems motivated by the Milgram Experiment, one of the most famous psychological tests ever conducted. You've heard of it. Prof. Stanley Milgram of Yale told volunteers he was testing the limits of human pain endurance. He showed them a dial and said it would administer electrical shocks to test subjects. The high range on the dial was painted red, indicating danger. The volunteers could hear the subjects screaming. They were told by the test supervisor it was "essential" to continue administering shocks (even though the dial indicated they might become fatal). In one round of experiments, 65% of the volunteers followed orders even when it meant a fatal shock.

What would you do? And what if the victim wasn't a person you had met who was screaming in another room, but someone unknown to you? And the reward wasn't helping out Yale with its research, but a cool million? Norma and Arthur Lewis aren't bad people -- pretty nice ones, in fact. They regret her impulsive action immediately. But then the plot grows sinister, coiling around to involve them, which we expect, but also venturing into completely unanticipated directions, and inspiring as many unanswered questions as "Knowing," which I loved.

Many readers hated "Knowing," and many will hate "The Box." What can I say? I'm not here to agree with you. This movie kept me involved and intrigued, and for that I'm grateful. I'm beginning to wonder whether, in some situations, absurdity might not be a strength.



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