The Box

November 6th, 2009


The Box

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Still of Cameron Diaz and Frank Langella in The BoxThe BoxCameron Diaz at event of The BoxStill of Richard Kelly in The BoxStill of James Marsden in The BoxThe Box

A small wooden box arrives on the doorstep of a married couple, who know that opening it will grant them a million dollars and kill someone they don't know.

Release Year: 2009

Rating: 5.7/10 (38,960 voted)

Critic's Score: 47/100

Director: Richard Kelly

Stars: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella

Norma and Arthur Lewis, a suburban couple with a young child, receive a simple wooden box as a gift, which bears fatal and irrevocable consequences. A mysterious stranger delivers the message that the box promises to bestow upon its owner $1 million with the press of a button. However, pressing this button will simultaneously cause the death of another human being somewhere in the world, someone they don't know. With just 24 hours to have the box in their possession, Norma and Arthur find themselves in the cross-hairs of a startling moral dilemma and must face the true nature of their humanity.

Writers: Richard Kelly, Richard Matheson

Cameron Diaz - Norma Lewis
James Marsden - Arthur Lewis
Frank Langella - Arlington Steward
James Rebhorn - Norm Cahill
Holmes Osborne - Dick Burns
Sam Oz Stone - Walter Lewis
Gillian Jacobs - Dana
Celia Weston - Lana Burns
Deborah Rush - Clymene Steward
Lisa K. Wyatt - Rhonda Martin
Mark S. Cartier - Martin Teague (as Mark Cartier)
Kevin Robertson - Wendel Matheson
Michele Durrett - Rebecca Matheson
Ian Kahn - Vick Brenner
John Magaro - Charles

Taglines: You Are The Experiment


Official Website: Official site [Japan] | Warner Bros. |

Release Date: 6 November 2009

Filming Locations: Boston Public Library - 700 Boylston Street, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $16,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $7,571,417 (USA) (8 November 2009) (2635 Screens)

Gross: $15,045,676 (USA) (3 January 2010)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

The uniforms and badges with the exception of the police patch are accurate for the Richmond, VA Bureau of Police in the 1970s. Also the outside view of the police headquarters is an accurate depiction of the old HQ located at 10th and Marshall St in Richmond, VA.

Anachronisms: 911 emergency services weren't available in Fairfax County until 1981.

Martin Teague: Sir? If you don't mind my asking... why a box?
Arlington Steward: Your home is a box. Your car is a box on wheels. You drive to work in it. You drive home in it. You sit in your home, staring into a box. It erodes your soul, while the box that is your body inevitably withers... then dies. Whereupon it is placed in the ultimate box, to slowly decompose.
Martin Teague: It's quite depressing, if you think of it that way.
Arlington Steward: Don't think of it that way... think of it as a temporary state of being.

User Review

'The Box' should be marked 'return to sender'

Rating: 2/10

Set in 1976 for no apparent reason other than to keep the set dressers busy, 'The Box' was directed by Richard Kelly ('Donnie Darko'), and stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as Norma and Arthur Lewis, a young couple who are supposedly struggling financially even though they both have successful careers--she as a high school teacher, he as an optical specialist at NASA's Langley, Virginia, Research Center. They have one child, Walter (Sam Oz Stone).

One day the Lewises find a parcel on their doorstep, containing a black box with a big red button. There is a note from a 'Mr. Steward' indicating that he will return at 5:00 PM to explain about the box.

The mysterious Arlington Steward, played by Frank Langella, shows up at the appointed time, nattily attired in an elegant Savile Row suit. He is polite but businesslike, however his most noticeable feature is his face, half of which appears to have been blown off and improperly attended to. Langella is the only thing worth watching in the movie, however he is unfortunately upstaged by his own makeup, which resembles that of Harvey 'Two Face' Dent (Aaron Eckhart) from Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight.' It's like the elephant in the room: one can try to ignore it, but it's more than a little distracting.

Steward explains that he will return in 24 hours to collect the button. If, during that time, they decide to unlock and push the button, he will give them $1 million cash. The only catch--and it's a big one--is that somewhere a stranger will die. It might be across town, it might be on another continent, however Steward assures them the victim will be someone unknown to them. As a show of good faith, he leaves them with a crisp $100 bill, theirs to keep whether they push the button or not.

Arthur and Norma are skeptical, believing the whole thing to be a scam or an elaborate hoax, however it isn't long before they begin to wonder what would happen if they did push the button? Would they really get a million dollars? Would somebody really die? Weary of the speculation, Norma slaps the button. Nothing happens. However, their initial relief gives way to alarm when Steward shows up the next day with a briefcase full of cash. They decide to call the whole thing off, however Steward tells them it's too late. "You've already pushed the button," he explains. As Steward's limo pulls away, Arthur notes the license number, which he later discovers is registered to the NSA (National Security Agency).

At this point the film begins to veer deeply into unfollowable territory as the secondary characters start springing nosebleeds and flashing peace signs. Meanwhile, the town becomes invaded by pudgy, slack-jawed geeks in bad shirts who start following Arthur around like an advance scouting party for a race of zombie alien nerds. Arthur eventually becomes trapped by the menacing bookworms in the library (?), where Steward's spinsterish wife shows up--whom we haven't seen till now--and informs Arthur that in order to get out of the library he must step into one of three vertical columns of cheesy-looking digital water effects. 'What happens if I choose the wrong one?', Arthur asks, seeming far less baffled than he ought to be under the circumstances, and certainly far less baffled than the audience is by this time. 'Eternal damnation,' the spinster says ominously.

Arthur steps into the middle column of digital liquid effects, and after a brief absence suddenly appears, still in his water cocoon, hovering over Norma's bed. When she wakes up and sees him, the water bubble bursts and Arthur tumbles onto the bed in a shower of water which, oddly enough, continues to drip from the overhead water pipes just out of camera range while a sodden Marsden and Diaz flop around on the bed.

It's confusing, I know.

We eventually learn that Steward was once the public relations officer for the NSA, until he was struck by a lightning bolt that destroyed part of his face. He was pronounced dead, but later came back to life, having been transformed into a sort of superman who now serves 'the ones who make the lightning,' and whose powers have enabled him to take over the CIA, the NSA, and NASA all by himself.

And what is the point of all this nattering rubbish? Apparently, Steward's mission is to subject humans to a kind of biblical character test (e.g., the 'Binding of Isaac'), to determine whether humanity is worth saving. If enough people pass the button test by refusing to push it, Steward's god-like overlords will spare the race. Unfortunately, those people who do push the button, such as Norma and Arthur, must be punished for their moral spinelessness, to which end they are subjected to a series of dreary 'Lady or the Tiger' ordeals that play out like one of those 'Saw movies,' except without the entertaining gore or the benefit of a coherent plot.

'The Box' represents the sort of pointless mental masturbation that freshman philosophy students like to blather on about after a few beers. Richard Kelly's tedious exercise in existentialist pettifoggery eventually collapses under the weight of its own incomprehensibility; the tortured melange of insupportable ideas eventually congeals, as with the mixing together of too many colors, into a meandering gray goo of a film as insipid as one of those narcotizing in-flight movies the plot of which suffers no more or less from having been interrupted by a leisurely nap.

There is a point in 'The Box' where Arthur, who is a technically-minded guy, becomes curious about how the button works. Opening up the unit, he is disappointed to find nothing inside.

Having seen The Box, I know exactly how he feels.


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