Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Box

Hauntingly Familiar

The Box | A Constantly Racing Mind
The hard part about watching a film about the 70's is enduring the terrible fashion of that era. In "The Button," I find myself back in the 70s, trapped in a world of sideburns, yellow televisions, polyester, and plaid. Watching the trailer, the first thought that came to mind, was the old "Monkey Paw" story I learned as a kid. However while watching this movie based on a short story by Richard Matheson ("I am Legend," "What Dreams May Come," "Somewhere In Time" and many others) I had strong feelings of déjà vu and about half way through this Sci-Fi, moralistic tale, I realized that this is a remake of a 1980's "Twilight Zone" episode. My bad, for not remembering that this film is a remake before I watched the DVD. When picking a film that is a remake, I have a tendency to get distracted, not with differences in the versions but with silly things like prices, inflation, pop-culture, and that remakes try much too hard to explain a plot that needs no explaining.

This version of The Button, we find ourselves in 1976 Virginia at 4:45 in the morning and Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) awake to the sound of their doorbell ringing. Norma opens the door to find that she is a victim of "ding-dong-ditch," and that a person left them a gift. The first fact that one notices is that Cameron Diaz, looking a bit more mature, sporting a southern accent and is dressing more mom-ish for this role. The box at the door is, of course, the infamous button. Locked in a domed glass half-bubble, the button, accompanied by a note, indicating that a Mr. Steward will visit the Lewis family at five that afternoon, they go about their day. Her husband, Arthur (Marsden), we find is a rocket scientist for NASA, and Norma is a teacher at a private school. Immediately we are treated to a brief philosophy session with a two-minute introduction to Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit," foreshadowing that this film will be reaching into some deep territory. A compelling short story, once again becomes complicated with the addition to the storyline of Norma's damaged right foot. Arthur, Norma's husband, is literally a rocket scientist, a rejected astronaut, who in the time of inflated NASA spending can afford to make his wife a prosthetic foot. The story plods along a bit as we learn all this before the return of the creepy looking, facially deformed, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella). Writer/Director Richard Kelly attempts to elaborate on the original Matheson story by adding detail, painting a picture that, unfortunately, diverges from an Adam and Eve tale of choices, consequences, and responsibility, to a "Body Snatcher's," pod people, alien possession film. Realizing that his movie was getting out of hand, Kelly starts to reel the story back into line by having Steward give the morally lost Arthur and Norma a choice to make.

The weakest part and one of the most salient facets of filmmaking is the story line. Richard Kelly directed "Donnie Darko" and he is the writer of "Domino" and is a talented artist, however, for some reason he decides to delve into existentialism philosophy, which perhaps is not what the audience is expecting and are not pleasantly surprised. Perhaps if this were an original story Kelly could take more liberties with the material, however, in this re-imagining of a solid and well remembered short story we feel led astray. I did like the photography and the bleakness obtained by using the film devoid of color accenting the philosophic atmosphere that Kelly was attempting to obtain. The film's score is highly reminiscent of the "Twilight Zone," although this may be intentional, or perhaps even an homage, the music is distracting.
Movies are avenues of escapism for the masses, during the Great Depression of the 1930's, people still found money to go to the movies, to escape. This is not an escapism film. Richard Kelly wants us to think, however, the audience shouldn't have to think that hard when watching a film. Some of the paths that Kelly leads us down are too complicated. If you want a science fiction story with a deep philosophical message perhaps this film is for you; otherwise you may want to take a pass on "The Box."

Movie Data

Genre:  Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Year:   2009
Staring:  Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Director:  Richard Kelly
Producer(s)  Richard Kelly, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis, Dan Lin, Kelly McKittrick, Sean McKittrick
Writer: Richard Kelly, Richard Matheson
Rating:  PG-13

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