The Box

The Box

Richard Kelly :: USA :: 2009 :: 1h55

It’s 1976 in small town USA. Southerners Norma and Arthur Lewis, a NASA scientist and a school teacher, live a comfortable life beyond their means with their son Walter. At the first set-back, Norma realises they have no financial buffer. A tall stranger appears at that exact moment to test their morals: he offers them a box with a button. If they press it, they will receive a million dollars and someone they do not know will die. They are not told how or who will die, but just that someone –they do not know– will die. The young couple stares at the box wondering what to do.

For those of you who think they recognise the plot, this is a feature length version of a famous Twilight Zone (1985) episode called Button, Button (from the short story by Richard Matheson). The original film was 20 minutes long, with some notable differences: there we were introduced to a stuttering Arthur and a chain-smoking Norma who live as a bickering working class couple in California, trying to make ends meet. The couple, when presented with the perverse choice, take opposing ends. Arthur is morally outraged by the idea while Norma is blinded by the prospect of the influx of wealth, hiding behind the anonymity of the obscure murder.

But the reason to push the button, poverty and misery, are removed in the contemporary version. The contemporary Norma and Arthur love each other, they are both healthy, living in a beautiful house, fully equipped with everything they could ever need, they go out to the theatre when they want to and even have a sports car and fancy clothes to boot. Under such circumstances, even a little set back should make you wonder what could that million add to their lives? Norma explains that it would “make it easier to live the life they want”, which makes you wonder what on earth they are missing. She says it would “provide security for their entire family”, but if they thought that was important, they would not have been living above their means. The final argument, is “are we ever going to leave Richmond?”. If the script had been a little more challenging, Arthur could have responded: “We have to kill someone because we never took the trouble to leave Richmond?” The reason to push the button is not there. Norma is fooling herself, succumbing under her own greed. And she is to realise it very quickly. But of course, too late.

The Box starts out as a stretched Twilight Zone episode brushed up with the contemporary Hollywood feel-good ethos (everybody is beautiful, wealthy, intelligent and loving) even if it does not suit the story. But as the film rolls on it starts to seem more and more like a M. Night Shyamalan movie. But then there are so many tangents, that you lose count. Some of them end up being storyline fluff while others become mysterious supernatural escapades. This is a wild moral adventure, best watched under cover of night, even if it is scarred by obscure lapses in logic. It is none the less enigmatically captivating, leaving the pieces in your head for assembly afterwards – even if you end up throwing the pieces on the floor because they do not fit.

(The Twilight Zone episode:


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