Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play Norma and Arthur Lewis, a couple living with their son in 1976 Virginia. If this movie is anything to go by, everyone in 1976 was clinically depressed. Seriously, smiles are hard to come by and, when you do see one, it's usually either villainous or creepy. I don't know why Arthur is depressed. While he did get rejected for astronaut training, he still works for NASA which is one of the coolest things you can do and he has a wife who looks like Cameron Diaz. Still, I guess he would be depressed just to blend in. Early one morning, a locked box is delivered to their doorstep and later a well dressed fellow named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) shows up at their doorstep to tell them exactly what the box is. It's hard to hear what he says at first due to a major distraction. Arlington Steward is missing a huge chunk of the left side of his face. This isn't just some makeup job either as the filmmakers used CGI to remove a portion of his face, onscreen anyway. I hope they didn't actually chop off a piece of Langella's face though, if they did, he can tell Robert DeNiro to kiss his ass the next time Bobby brags how he gained ten pounds for a role.
Anyway, as I'm sure you've seen in the ads, the box contains a button. Steward tells Norma that if she presses the button two things will happen. One, he will give her a million dollars and two, someone on the planet she does not know will die as a result of the button being pushed. She and Arthur have been having some money problems lately so, after, lengthy discussion, Norma ends up quickly pushing the button before she can change her mind and says, "It's just a box." This statement was based on the fact that Arthur opened it and found no machinery or transmitters of any kind. It was just a button and an empty box yet, somehow, Steward knew it had been pushed when he showed up to give them the million dollars.
It was around this point that I finally recognized this story as a cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1970 short story Button, Button. This made me think I knew how it would end but man, was I wrong. The story had an ironic and cruel twist ending whereas this one, well, I don't want to tell you except that ultimately the story is about two choices these characters have to make and that, each time, they made the wrong choice.
The movie itself feels like a melding of the films of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock yet, surprisingly, the director's name was Richard Kelly and not Dafred Lynchcock. The movie's direction and worldview now make more sense knowing it was written and directed by the guy who made Donnie Darko. Not much more sense, but some.
As I said, the style of filmmaking and storytelling is similar to that of Knowing and I've always said I have mixed feelings about Knowing but it still fascinates me. My attitude toward The Box is similar. It starts off as creepy suspense and from there pretty much gets on a train to Crazytown. It gets more and more outrageous until it finally reaches the ending I didn't like. Still, it interests me. I've gotten so good at figuring out movie plots that it was nice not to see where this one was headed, kind of like how Dr. Manhattan could overlook the deaths of millions because of his excitement that his ability to see the future had been impaired.
After writing this, I read Ebert's review and I think this sentence perfectly describes the experience of seeing this movie:
The writer-director, Richard Kelly, goes from A to Z using 52 letters, but his transitions flow so uncannily it's only when you look back that you realize you're off the road.It took me six paragraphs to say what he said in one sentence. That's why he's a successful Pulitzer Prize winning writer and I'm some guy on the internet.