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The Box (7/10)
by Tony Medley
Run Time 115 minutes
OK for children
Wow, this certainly isn’t what I expected from the
relatively benign interview I saw of star James Marsden on “Live with
Regis and Kelly.” It’s dark, drear, and troubling. It starts like a
fairly straight forward thriller, and then descends into weirdness
involving scenes that are phantasmagorical.
Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and Marsden),
comprise a young married couple with a young son, having financial problems.
Out of the blue their doorbell rings and there stands a facially
disfigured Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), holding a box with a
button on top. He explains to them that if they press the button they
will be given $1 million in cash, tax free, but if they push it someone
they don’t know will die.
This is based on a short story by Richard Matheson
(“Button, Button”), published in Playboy Magazine in 1970, and
apparently also by The Milgram Experiment, conducted in 1961 by
YaleUniversity psychologist Stanley
Milgram. Milgram got students to agree to answer questions. If the
answers were incorrect, someone in another room would receive electric
shocks of increasing intensity, eventually potentially fatal. The person
in the other room was not actually receiving a shock, but the
participants didn’t know that. The person being shocked would respond
with yells and screams of pain. At the outset, Milgram polled students
and the estimate was that only 1.2% would be willing to proceed to the
fatal shock. In fact 65 percent (26 of 40) of experiment participants
administered the experiment's final massive 450-volt shock.
In the movie, Norma presses the button (this
happens at the beginning of the film, so it’s not a spoiler; I’m not
letting anything out of the bag; in fact, in the clip shown on Regis’
show, it shows her pushing the button). What follows progresses from
intriguing to complicated to bizarre.
Writer-director Richard Kelly has pulled out all
the stops. Well acted by Langella, Diaz, and Marsden, what genre this
could be is anybody’s guess. It’s definitely a thriller, but it could
also be classified as sci-fi and/or horror. It has scenes that are
faintly reminiscent of Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl Commercial.
The film presents a moral dilemma without
being particularly judgmental, although there is one unfortunate short
piece of dialogue where it seems to be making some sort of political
statement. Despite that, overall it handles it in a manner that
leaves one thinking.
I can’t say I enjoyed this movie, in the ordinary
definition of “enjoy,” but it did keep me involved and it did cause me
to think about it long after I left the theater. To me, that’s one good
definition of an entertaining movie.