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Movie Review: “The Box”

21 November 2009

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 

– Genesis 3:6 (ESV);  (Emphasis mine)

Frank Langella as Arlington Steward: The Lovable Jerk

The premise behind the plot is simple enough:  A strange man drops off a box at a couple’s doorstep.  Later, he explains that the box contains a button.  If either the husband (Arthur Lewis) or the wife (Norma Lewis) push the button, someone in the world who they do not know, will die.  At the same time, they will receive $1 million dollars.  If no one pushes the button, no one will die, and no money will be disbursed. 

Of course, someone does push the button (else.. it would be a pretty short movie, of course), and of course, the strange man and his “employers” are not done with the couple after they give the money to the couple.  That would make for a short movie as well. 

We can pretty much guess what the ending is, after Arlington Steward (the strange man) retrieves the box.  He’s going to test another couple.  “Who will you test next?” they ask him.  “All I can tell you is that it is someone who you do not know.”

Uh-oh!  Shouldn’t have pushed that button, dear.

Did I mention that the wife pushes the button?  Silly me.  It’s irrelevant, anyhow.  I will explain shortly. 

I appreciate the movie because it explores what unbelievers think about sin, damnation, and culpability.  Some of this they actually get right.  Mostly, they get it wrong. 

Take the “test,” for example.  There are actually two tests taking place simultaneously, between the couple we see, and another couple (the one that failed their test).  In test #1a, the premise is that if either the husband or the wife presses the button, that it will cause someone to die.  In test #1b, the test is that the husband must murder his wife (the person who will die if the button is pushed), else their child will be blind and deaf for the rest of their life. 

Confused?  Don’t worry – that’s because it doesn’t make any sense.  But let me put this a different way:

Test 1a (to the original couple):  If one of the Lewises pushes the button, then a Jane or John Doe will die.

Test 1b (to the strangers who are being punished for pushing the button):  John Doe  must kill his wife  (Jane Doe), else a horrid fate awaits their child. 

Get it?  Two causes, not in the least connected to one another (not even by a circuitous Rube Goldberg device), one murder. 

I know what you’re thinking.  That’s logically impossible, right?  Well, yeah.  At best, the first couple is guilty of pushing the button, with the knowledge that someone would die  (i.e., their intent was murder).  In other words, they’re guilty of having intent.

And .. gimme a break.  John Doe is guilty of the murder of his wife Jane Doe.  he points the gun and he pulls the trigger.  It’s premeditated, too.  C’mon guys, I know you think we’re stupid, but are we really that stupid?

Thing is, I don’t buy that the intent was murder.  You see, just before pushing the button, the husband drags the box up from the family safe, unlocks it on the kitchen table, and he and his wife sit and talk and stare at it.  They talk about it endlessly, with the opportunity just sitting there, waiting to be plucked.  In the end (or in this case, the beginning) it’s not the money that is tempting, so much as pushing the button.  And I don’t believe based on the scene, that Arthur and Norma believes that the killing will actually occur.

I think that scene alone gets it right.  As in Genesis 3, the husband stands around while the wife is being tempted.  It’s as if he’s curious, but needs a guinea pig to do the deed for him. 

From there, it gets weird.  For example, Arthur is told that he must participate in a shell game in order to avoid eternal damnation, but if he looses the shell game, he’ll suffer eternal damnation.  Gee, how’s that for grace? 

But the test itself should tell us something about Arlington Steward’s employers.  Think about it.  They’re testing mankind, because they don’t know the heart of mankind.  Their goal is to determine whether mankind’s extinction ought to be accelerated.  But… if they don’t know what they need to know about mankind such that they need to test mankind.. then, they didn’t create us.  But, if they didn’t create us, then they are not our creators.  And if they aren’t our Creators,  then they do not have the right to hasten our extinction.  Right??


They’re .. a presumptuous lot, whoever they are. 

Oh well. 

The final scenes tell us something about how unbelievers think.  The Lewises are now presented with the second test:  Arthur must kill Norma, or their child will suffer the loss of key senses.  Learning her fate, but overcome with guilt, Norma asks Arlington Steward if there is any forgiveness for what she has done. 

Arlington looks on her with compassion, and tells her that he honestly doesn’t know  (yet another clue that his employers are hardly divine). 

Later, we see Arlington Steward stroll casually by a creche’ (the movie is set during Christmastime).  Does he stop and ponder the creche’, wondering if indeed there is any forgiveness for Mrs. Lewis, who has in some senses, won him over ?  He does not.  He does not turn his head to look at the creche’.  He does not slow down.  He never misses a beat. 

You see, not only does Arlington and his employers not know if there is forgiveness for Norma… They do not care. 

How very sad.  For them.

I think that this movie is worth renting.  I think that many people will find it bleak and depressing.  For Christians who watch it, my advice is to pity the characters and the writers who do not know and do not care enough for forgiveness;  but ultimately, that they need to walk past this despair as casually and dispassionately as Arlington Steward, strolling by the creche’.

Because, how very sad…

..For them.

– Elder

Categories: Movie Reviews, Theology
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