An inaminate object becomes a test of morality in “The Box”

Chandy Clemens

There’s nothing remotely intriguing about a movie dealing with a box. Except, executed here, a lot of things. Director Richard Kelly brings us down a path of twists and turns that wind around logic and give it a good old chock-hold.

“The Box” could have played close to formula with the fairly simplistic theme: man and woman facing a moral decision. However, Kelly thinks outside the box once again in his third feature that blurs any sort of expectation.

I’m not going to shed too much light on the intricate plot of “The Box,” because it won’t be as much fun to figure out. Norma and Arthur Miller (a spectacular Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) live in Virginia, are married, and face dire straits with their finances when Norma’s school decides to cut teacher discount for their own child’s attendance and Arthur is denied a position for N.A.S.A.’s space program.

In the meantime, a mysterious box that holds a small contraption with a red push button is left on their doorstep. The delivery man behind the box becomes known as Arlington Steward, a disfigured enigma played with haunting subtlety by Frank Langella, who contacts them and makes an offer: push the button and receive a million dollars, but the catch is someone in the world you don’t know will die. Now the decision becomes a question of ethics, something Norma as a Jean Paul-Sartre enthusiast knows much about.

After Norma impulsively pushes the button, thinking nothing other than the entire thing is a scam, Steward appears at their doorstep the next day with a briefcase full of money. Oh God, what now? A whole heap of trouble, involving nosebleeds, Mars, mind-controlled employees, resurrection, and the “people who control the lightning.”

No idea what I’m talking about, right? The intent of “The Box,” despite how much you’ll scratch your head, is to not make early assumptions. This is no ordinary tale, nor is Richard Kelly an ordinary director.

After “Donnie Darko” and “Southland Tales,” there seems no limit to Kelly’s creativity, and demonstrated here, he is more than capable of fashioning a masterful work of ultimate intrigue.

“The Box” throws out questions like rapid-fire, most of which we’re never truly given complete answers to. What I ascertained from “The Box” was more than a lot of critics, or audiences, are probably going to get. Audiences don’t have patience when a film becomes a mind game, but solving the mysteries of “The Box” didn’t feel like a mental chore.

Somehow Kelly tied together this supernatural meditation on the morals of humanity quiet effectively; the value of money versus the value of life and the gross realization that our civilization tends to pick one over the other for personal gain.

Richard Kelly found meaning in an inanimate object and made a spellbinding motion picture out of it. This is one of those films that demands attention and despite some meandering into absurd territory that might try your patience, trust me, “The Box” pays off.