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The Box: Movie Review

Updated on December 15, 2009

If someone promised to give you a million dollars (tax free) and all you had to do was shoot someone, would you do it? I’ll assume that you would be astonished at such a terrible offer.

Well, what if someone told you that all you needed to do to get the million was to press a button. Someone you didn’t know would die as well, but all you had to do was press the button ... would you do it? Well, would you?

The recently released (2009) movie “The Box” explores the depths of a human soul, in all its capabilities and inabilities, in a strange sci-fi horror kind of way. “The Box” was written and directed by Richard Kelly, the writer and director of “Donnie Darko”. The plot is based on the short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the novel I Am Legend. “The Box” is a surprisingly good film, despite the negative criticism it has received. James Marsden and Cameron Diaz deliver excellent performances, portraying well their characters’ tumultuous inward struggles.

The plot is gripping and intense. A man missing half his face arrives early one morning at the home of Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma (Cameron Diaz) and enters to offer them the chance of lifetime (never open the door to strangers, kids). He gives them a box with a large button on it (think Deal or No Deal). They have twenty-four hours to push the button. Two things will happen when the button is pushed: 1) Arthur and Norma will receive one million dollars (tax free) and 2) someone unknown to them will die.

Arthur and Norma are normal everyday people. They have dreams and setbacks, successes and failures. And they have a son. They live paycheck to paycheck, and both of them have recently experienced setbacks in their careers. Norma has a disfigured foot that needs surgery. A million dollars sound really good to them, but we know better. They’re a nice, well-meaning family; they wouldn’t consciously hurt someone for their own gain. Or would they?

Would you press the button?

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They consider their options for twenty-three hours. They justify to themselves their reasons for pressing the button, they contemplate whether it’s all a hoax, but in the end, Norma pushes the button. The strange man arrives, gives them the million dollars, picks up his button, and leaves.  Instantly, guilt seeps into Arthur’s and Norma’s hearts and over their faces and they beg the man to take back his money, but it’s too late. They did what they did and must live with the consequences.

So Arthur and Norma could go back to their routine lives, pay their bills, and send their son to a really great college, or they could just give the money to a charity and forget that it ever existed. But no, they lock every last bill in a safe in their basement. Arthur and Norma are thrown into a hurricane of right-and-wrong, and they are flooded with fear and danger. The movie progresses faster at this point, as the sci-fi-horror effects take over. But Arthur and Norma's guilt only grows worse as time goes by.

As a movie, “The Box” is scary. As a story, it is a deep insight into the heart of a person. We can relate to Arthur and Norma. We can understand their desire for material gain. We feel their guilt and their shame. We desire forgiveness. But no matter how hard they try, they can’t erase what they’ve done. And neither can we.

James Marsden and Cameron Diaz star in The Box
James Marsden and Cameron Diaz star in The Box

The beginning of the movie starts off with the button question. But the ending asks a new one. Arthur and Norma are faced with another life-or-death question, but this time they know the person who will die. Will they do it again and murder another person? Or will they seek grace and live, even if it means they have to live with hardship and miserable suffering?

What is the right decision? I don’t mean the less painful decision, but the right decision.

When it comes down to it, we all have the ability to press the button, to murder. Yes, every one of us. Left on our own, we’d all be pushing the buttons, killing each other off. We are doomed for failure. The movie got this far. I would like to take it a step further. I believe God is in sovereign control over all of life. The reason we’re not all murderers is that God restrains us totally depraved people. God has the power to save us. We have no power to do good on our own. Through Jesus Christ alone, we can be renewed and regenerated.

“The Box” leaves us with no hope. It tells a compelling story that resonates well with our heart of hearts. We are a condemned people, with a vague hint at the possibility of forgiveness and the impossibility of our accepting it. This is a stark message, but a true one. We are hopeless on our own. We need a Savior.


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    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      Nice to hear from you again, geekchick. Glad you enjoyed the movie. I'd like to watch that episode sometime... the old Twilight Zones are classic.

    • geekchick profile image

      geekchick 7 years ago

      I finally got around to watching this movie. I enjoyed it, but I think I like the original Twilight Zone episode better.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 8 years ago from Michigan

      prasetio30, it is a very interesting movie. Cameron Diaz surprised me in this role.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      It look interesting movie. I'll rent the DVD soon. Thanks for nice review about this movie. Cameron Diaz is my favorite.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 8 years ago from Michigan

      Geekchick, I've seen the movie but I haven't seen the Twilight Zone episode yet! I'd like to sometime. I really enjoyed the movie and look forward to seeing it again soon.

    • geekchick profile image

      geekchick 8 years ago

      I haven't seen this movie yet, but I want to see it. It's based on one of my favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone. We actually watched that episode in a Morality class I took. It's quite interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing how the movie compares to the episode. Your review makes me look forward to watching it.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 8 years ago from Michigan

      It's a movie well worth watching! The whole plot is fascinating and thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing the anecdote from your history class! Very interesting! Doing something wrong for the sake of something good is just that easy ... but that doesn't make it right.

    • profile image

      elliot.dunn 8 years ago

      i wasnt sure what i thought about this movie when i saw the preview. i'll probably wait til it comes out on DVD. the question, though, is intense. i took a 20th century Russian history class last year and the professor brought in an easy button one day. He said, 'what would you do if i told you that by pushing this button you would end poverty, disease, war, crime, that the world would live at peace? all it would mean is that one person would die. would you do it? what if it was ten people? how about a million? what price wouldn't you pay for world peace?" and then he said that's exactly what Lenin and Stalin thought. When he pushed the Easy Button, there was nothing but silence in the room. "that was easy"

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 8 years ago from Michigan

      Yes, definitely a good movie to watch on a dark and stormy night. I was totally freaked out in the theater. I can't wait till it comes out on DVD to watch it again ... just not by myself.

      No way, Frank Langella? That's really cool! Say hi to him for me :) He was great in "The Box". Poor guy, though, half his face was gone in most of the movie.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      This movie sounds like the perfect Friday night popcorn-movie (especially if it's raining). I'm definitely into it and will certainly have to check it out.

      By the way, I'm a good friend to Frank Langella's family: His grandson is one of my friends who I've known for almost a decade. We were all rooting for him when he was nominated for best actor in "Frost/Nixon."