Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Box

Deal or No Deal?

The trailer goes nowhere near and only scratches the surface of the film and rightly so too, not because it has that obligation to keep its real narrative under wraps, but because what actually transpires, will provoke entirely different lines of questioning, some of which are frustratingly not answered in the film, leaving you to your own devices to interpret the series of events. Which of course means plenty of material for an after-show discussion.

Metaphorically, the box refers to how us humans tend to subconsciously hole ourselves into situations or things in everyday life, and how our enclosed thoughts tend to see things from a certain perspective, seldom out of the box. There's a speech made near the end by one of the characters that will leave you pondering over this fact, which governs the basis of the entire film, and even threading on existentialism, where our bodies are mere vessels for the soul, and from cradle to the grave we put ourselves in more boxes in a way of life fashion.

What I disliked about the film, is how it tried to sound intelligent through the frequent name dropping of covert government agencies like the CIA and NSA, as though there's something overtly clandestine about these agencies that we should be aware of. They serve little purpose other than to put every action and every person under scrutiny, that nobody can be trusted, wrecking havoc in a sense to both the characters and the audience as we try to keep up with trust issues to aid in the interpretation of the narrative. Having it set in 1976, against a NASA backdrop of manned space missions, and in Richmond, Virginia, also provided that heightened sense of wary that will sap your energies as you sit through it patiently.

Based upon the short story Button, Button written by Richard Matheson and made into an episode of the Twilight Zone, the story follows the Lewis family, where husband Arthur (James Marsden) works at NASA and develops a prosthetic foot for his teacher wife Norma (Cameron Diaz), and you'd think it's all happy family with their son Walter (Sam Oz Stone), until one day a mysterious man called Arlington Steward (Frank Langella in a Two-Face inspired facial effect) whom we are preempted of in the opening, comes knocking and giving them a Deal or No Deal button in a box. Plunge the button and they'll get a million bucks (we're talking in dollar terms of the 70s here) although a stranger out there will die. If they don't, well the deal's got an expiry date.

The story would dictate a deal be made, which of course sparks off a mysterious sequence of events that unfold, with even more shady characters (who nosebleed) appearing, some whom are inexplicably zombie like, apparently all under the influence, or employment, or Arlington Steward. Whether or not Steward is Death, a clandestine government employee, a messenger from God or a representative of Aliens after an anal probe, remains unanswered, so whichever way you look at it, it's as if he's delivering something expected, just begging that mankind will shake off its innate greed so that his work can be cut short and to return to wherever he came from.

If you need a little distraction from the disparate scenes which make up the narrative, the production sets and art direction are gorgeous in recreating the 70s look, as you try to figure out the mystery of the consequences that stem from a result of not fully understanding the fine print. It's full circle this examination of human nature, of our greed for immediate gratification, manifesting its result in longer term pain, confusion and further choices that we'll make based on real sacrifices. Nifty special effects come into play as well, though it just leaves more room open as to the genre of the film.

So is it horror, science fiction, or a mystery thriller? It's everything rolled into one actually, together with a sprinkling of the philosophical. Just don't go expecting a straight narrative film with clean and easy answers at the end – this is like an X-Files episode on steroids.

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