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Movie Review: The Box

BY GRETA HAGEN-RICHARDSON | NOVEMBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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* out of *****

A million dollars or a human life?

This is the problem facing the young couple in Richard Kelly’s (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales) latest film. The Box stars Cameron Diaz (My Sister’s Keeper, There’s Something About Mary) as Norma and James Marsden (The Notebook, Hairspray) as Arthur, a young middle-class couple living in 1970s Virginia.

It is obvious which of the two options is more ethically sound. However, with the very real financial troubles facing millions of people in America, making the choice that one could live with is a little hazy. Norma and Arthur work as a very sympathetic couple. After their son’s tuition funding is pulled and Arthur is passed up for a promotion (for seemingly innocuous reasons) their financial situation appears more than a little desperate.

This bleak future is juxtaposed to their middle-class material wealth. While they might be in trouble in the coming months, they own a home, a sports car and they all have their health. The story is framed around Christmas time, making the couple more relatable to the average American (when children expect gifts under a decorated tree, one might do anything to provide that holiday experience) as well as adding another dimension to their eventual choice.

The Box is most successful at illustrating the complexities of American consumer culture with the lives of Norma and Arthur. They need things in the beginning of the film that, as the stakes get higher, seem completely irrelevant by the end. This contrast communicates the ethical quandary beautifully and makes their situation more personal.

Unfortunately, the manner in which The Box goes about moralizing is alienating and absurd. Kelly masterfully contrasts the couple’s socially constructed delusions of what people need to get by to the actual truth of the situation. Then, out of nowhere, he steals a major story lineout of the Bible. From Genesis, to be more exact, and that is when the movie fails.

The Box turns to Judeo-Christian dogma and folklore to create tension and fill in plot holes. The enigma of the man with the box and half a face (which is over-emphasized throughout the entire film) turns out to be a God-like figure in human form who rains down judgments from “above.” The most offensive allegory comes with the relationship between “original sin” and Norma’s choice. It is she, and several other wives who ultimately make the decision to accept the money while their doting and defenseless husbands sit idly by.

The transparent references to God and the Second Coming of Christ were offensive enough to the unaware viewer. But, the idea that women are naturally so overwhelmed by their need for possessions and status that they are willing to forgo both their own family’s collective conscious and human life is completely unacceptable. Men in this film hold no blame, and (surprise anyone?) they run the whole show. Women only want material wealth and are ultimately the catalyst for their families’ degradation.

Appalling and manipulating, The Box leaves one feeling unwashed and angry. Richard Kelly can keep his moralizing and proselytizing ways inside the box next time.


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