Thinking Inside The Box

The Box...... a simple, elegant, precise moral test. Push the button and someone, somewhere dies. You get a cool million dollars. Don't push the button and the box moves on to the next candidate and you don't get a dime. The concept of the test is nearly perfect. It's pure and clear, the ramifications (death to someone unknown) and the reward (personal wealth) are both understood, leaving the candidate armed with a simple choice and understanding the consequences of that choice.

As terrific as this little kernel of an idea may seem, it doesn't translate to a feature film and The Box (the film) suffers from attempting to flush out a entire movie from of what is essentially a single scene. It's a frustrating thing to watch because this is a story that had immense potential in the right hands. As it stands, The Box is a Mr. Potatohead film with random plot bits stuck on to make the end result seem like a feature film. They scotch tape everything together... from aliens to physical disfigurement to the afterlife to sacrificing lives for your children to Adam and Eve to NASA to Christmas to weddings to Helen Keller leaving a script that resembles every Stephen King book ever written pureed in a blender with the original short story from Richard Matheson. In a nutshell, it's a mess.

They should have called me. There is but one way to do this film and that's with Wallace Shaun and Andre Gregory. You put the box in the middle of a table and seat them on opposite sides. They sit there and discuss the implications of pushing the button, starting with the impulsive desire to strike it rich with one simple action and then slowly establishing the larger ethical ramifications and emotional cost of such a decision. Would you be consumed by guilt? If so, how would that guilt manifest itself? What if the random death is your own, say the death of your soul? The philosophical possibilities of the story are endless. I've read that The Box has been compared to the famous Milgram Experiment (you know, the Yale psychological tests where people were told to zap other people in an adjacent room and often did so, even though they understood the recipients might be facing excruciating pain or even death next door?) but disagree entirely with that connection. The Milgram test was based on the dynamic between authority and the transference of responsibility whereas The Box presents a clearly ethical question of personal choice and its moral consequences.

Unfortunately, The Box ended up in the uncertain hands of Richard (Donnie Darko) Kelley and it becomes an amalgam of the worst bits of Knowing and The Fountain starring the extra's from a low-rent version of The Day Mars Invaded Earth. Too bad because this could have been a great one.

Oh.... and in La BoƮte (my My Dinner With Andre version), at the end of the film you come to realize that one of them (likely that little fucker Wallace Shaun) has already pushed the button and they've entered a Louis Malle film that they can never escape from. It's infinitely long and even slower than the original.

A final question …... As honestly as you can... would you press the button for a million dollars?



the coelacanth said...

i'm becoming less and less sure of richard kelly's prowess as a director, and he seems to be engaged in some kind of negative career trajectory. too bad, darko showed so much promise, southland tales less so, and the box (though i haven't seen it, and will reserve judgment until i do) sounds like a mess.

this is what i think happened: the relative success of darko went to the wunderkind's (and his financiers') head, so he was given carte blanche with southland tales, and he went with the "weirder is better" formula. it wasn't better, and now he's grasping at straws with the box, hoping that something - anything - clicks, and he isn't banished to also-ran purgatory where he can only get gigs directing cabin fever sequels. sadly, it looks like that time may have come...

will certainly check out the box, though - though your review is fairly damning, the film still kind of intrigues me, like a car wreck...

Britarded said...

Just watched it and again your review makes perfect sense in hindsight. I agree, My Dinner with a Box is a better idea, though I'd make it a Christophe Waltz vs Frank Langhella feature, call it Waltz/Nixon and ramp up the tension til you mess your drawers.
All in all, this is a weird weird film that starts off as a family drama, moves into thriller territory and ends up in sci-fi/horror purgatory as an oddity that won't quite please anyone. Close, because it really does have it's moments and the performances and cinematography are pretty nice, but in the end there are a thousand other boxes you'd sooner see me taking a second glance at.