The Box (2009): You Know What They Say About Small Packages?

One of the most thrillingly compelling films in the past three years would be the adaptation of Richard Matheson‘s Button, Button, a science fiction, horror, philosophical, multi-genre thriller. Richard Kelly’s The Box, as it has been aptly renamed, gives Mr. and Mrs. Lewis (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) an existential dilemma to face, as they had been presented a fairly sizable wooden box with a locked glass dome, encasing a red button. Pressing which would grant them one million dollars, in exchange for a death of someone they are assured they do not know. The plot moves on to deciphering the mystery behind the box, the consequences of pressing the button, and an overall sci-fi detective case goes along.

I have an offer to make. If you push the button, two things will happen. First, someone, somewhere in the world, whom you don’t know, will die. Second, you will receive a payment of one million dollars. You have 24 hours.

Arlington Steward

Further plot spoilers will be presented after a review. :) Refrain from reading the last few parts if you have not seen the movie yet.

Casting Cameron Diaz as Mrs. Lewis was unexpected, however truly enjoyable it was to watch her portray such a character. It was unexpected that she pulled that off so well. Even the accent was flawless, how she handled her son, how she acted as a wife. How she carries herself as a philosophy/literature teacher, as a mother who jokingly embarrasses her son by kissing him goodbye before he hops onto the bus–the things we never saw Cameron trying out, but she puts these roles on as perfectly as any dress would fit her. Truly, Diaz is praiseworthy and deserves to be ranked as an artist of such caliber. The only thing that peeves me is how young she is (or how young she looks) in comparison to the actors and actresses around her. She was supposed to act thirty-five in this film, and did not look the part. She acted naturally, but it didn’t feel natural at all. This is my same issue with the casting of James Marsden. Everyone looks old, normal and, well, human–they look like they came out of a magazine. It’s the only thing that makes it unrealistic, and despite their best efforts to be such natural actors, they’re just too gorgeous to seem normal.

But then, we all knew Hollywood. Casting all the wonderfully gorgeous people gets the simple minded to watch as well. I have no complaints with regards to James Marsden’s acting–simply because it was unarguably superb, shifting emotion from one scene to the next so superfluously. The small, seemingly insignificant gestures and facial expressions make it seem as if he’s been completely consumed by his role.

This, and with all the other actors cast, it proves that Richard Kelly has done a phenomenally swell job with directing.

The camera angles and transitions were sometimes awkward and stiff. But I’m guessing that the general public doesn’t really mind these things as much as I do.

The effects were all good. The sound manages to creep you out at all the right parts. For visuals, they weren’t the Harry Potter wow-this-seems-so-real-it’s-like-3D types, but they were good enough for imaginative realism. The make-up, especially, for Mr. Steward’s deformed face was amazingly constructed.

Now what I like about the plot (and by this, I mean spoilers) is that not only is it science fiction, not only is it horror, but it also presents a philosophical argument. In the story, the button is apparently a test for mankind, brought by higher order forces (probably Martians or some galactic, otherworldly extraterrestrial life form). When Mr. Steward was asked by one of his employees, “how do you pass the test?” he responded that the answer was obvious, simply just don’t press the red button. He explains that a race with no concern for others is hopeless, and has no chance of survival. This was the experiment, to see if humans care enough about others.

“If human beings are unwilling or unable to sacrifice individual desires for the greater good of your species and it has no chance of survival then my employers will be compelled to expedite your extinction. Clear?”

“Your home is a box. Your car is a box on wheels. You drive to work in it and you drive home in it. You sit at home staring at a box. It erodes your soul while the box that is your body inevitably withers then dies whereupon it is placed in the ultimate box to slowly decompose. [ . . . ] Don’t think of it that way. Think of it as a temporary state of being.”

Arlington Steward was apparently hit by lightning once upon a NASA experiment, and though the heat of the lightning was worse than the heat of the sun, his body had regenerated and healed at ten times the rate of any normal human. Though half of his face was still sculpted out. He explains that his “employers” simply have a bizarre sense of humor. He also has a personal set of his own mindless zombie employees, humans who must have undergone the test–I don’t know. But what I do know is that they are tasked to keep a close eye on the people who are currently taking the test, and make sure that they do not call the cops, share the secret with others, etc.

The test is actually cyclic. Once you fail the test, your child will be kidnapped, and then returned to your home, locked away in the bathroom, both blind and deaf. Now the deal is that the couple may continue their lives and enjoy the money they have received, but forever condemning their child to an eternity of darkness and silence. They may choose, however, to free the child of this curse, with the spouse shooting the other who pressed the button. In this case, it was Cameron who had to die.

And so she does.

Their son Walter was set free from the disability, but his mother is dead and his father is imprisoned for the murder of his wife. The million dollars will be given to their son on his eighteenth birthday; that is the promise.

And Steward takes the box, and sends it off to another family. And on to the next, and the next, and the next.

It’s a really good movie, and a definite must-watch. But the translation of the original story to the screen is a bit awkward, and some elements just seemed too unnatural. The execution of the movie was a little way short of astounding. But they managed to almost perfectly capture the essence of the story’s philosophical aspects. Giving this one a three out of five.


2 thoughts on “The Box (2009): You Know What They Say About Small Packages?

  1. […] If our race is incapable of giving up their personal interests for the welfare of others, then we have no chance of survival altogether. To murder, and think only of the monetary consequences upon yourself, and not the consequences brought on by the death of another–that is truly selfish. […]

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