Review of The Box

By Melvyn Kohn
December 8, 2009

I like taking walks around New York, and though I've been here five decades, I still find new things. A recent walk took me to Bleeker Street, where I noticed the Chaim Gross statue titled "Family", which was sculpted in 1979 and donated to the city in honour of former mayor Ed Koch. That was en route to a party for Harper's Bazaar at Juicy Couture, which was all posh and pink inside. I walked up and down Bleeker, looking in at the shops, including one jewellery shop that had taxidermy birds, whilst I waited for Marcia Salzburg to appear; she it was who invited me. After a tour of the premises, we decided to head for more masculine surroundings. and so made our way to the Carnegie Club on 57th Street, where Glenlivet was promoting its Scotch, decanted by a kilted Glaswegian. A 25-year-old sample was exquisite, and went well with the atmosphere in the club. Lots of Marcia's friends were in the crowd, but again, we did not stay too long, much as I would have liked to sample more of the free spirits, as she had tickets for us at the 68th Street Odeon where a special screening of "The Box" was on. This movie is based on a story by Richard Matheson which first appeared in Playboy in 1970, titled "Button, Button." It is a sci-fi/hi-tech morality play; a character named Arlington Steward, played by Frank Langella, loosely represents satan; with Adam, aka Arthur Lewis, played by James Marsden, and; Eve, aka Norman Lewis, played by Cameron Diaz. Eve, don't touch that fruit, or you shall surely taste of death; Norma, don't press that button on the box that the very polite Mr Steward has left for you, or someone else, someone he assures you you don't know, shall surely die. So try not to think of the million dollars on offer if you do. It's tempting. So tempting. So you do. Someone dies. Now what?

Now you are in trouble. And the kind Mr Steward, the most subtle of creatures in this garden, is now switching roles to play the Creator, or at least his 'employee' in this realm. It gets very twisted from there, and we have lots of water features leading into the next realm, spooks from the National Security Agency, and NASA staff. I think this all gets a bit overdone, maybe only to stretch the ten page story into a two hour movie. Less is more, they ought to remind themselves.

One thing I noticed was the idea of the NSA as some kind of evil, mysterious entity. NSA...NASA...NAZI. Well, truth to tell, Abwehr agents were used to form all three. And then there are stories here and there that surface about what they are really up to, like assassinations, coups. etc. But let's not read too much into this film. It's just a film. Best not to divulge the ending, which one can just about guess anyway - I will say there is a lot of good acting in this, and that it was fun to see a '70s theme, a decade I spent not far from the location of the movie which is set on the East Coast of the US, and that is was a film I enjoyed more than most. I expect you will too, whatever its faults.


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