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Thinking inside/outside "The Box"

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James Marsden and Cameron Diaz starred in 2009's "The Box."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Released 12 years ago, just weeks after the traumatic events of 9/11/01, the Richard Kelly film Donnie Darko seems to get more powerful with each viewing. I refer to Donnie Darko in my recent post "Fantasy football at the time-loop hotel."

New things are discovered, not unlike the way Stanley Kubrick fans (myself included) will go frame-by-frame on a film, looking for clues and answers.

But there’s a lot in the misunderstood and underappreciated 2009 film The Box, starring Cameron Diaz and Stillwater, Oklahoma native James Marsden.

Based on the Richard Matheson story “Button, Button,” Richard Kelly’s cinematic take on that short story is quite powerful in its own way, primarily because he set it in Richmond, Virginia in December 1976 against the NASA Viking mission to Mars.

Greeted with mixed reviews – not a good thing following the Southland Tales disaster – The Box does hold up. Kelly embraces esoteric themes and Kubrickian approaches to filming and storytelling. And this, friends, is a good thing.

Kelly grew up in Virginia amidst all those spooky agencies – NASA, NSA, FBI and the CIA. He said in interviews about The Box that he wanted to set it during the Ford administration because the unsettling man who approaches Norma (Diaz) and Arthur (Marsden) – Arlington Steward, played by Frank Langella – and has a terrible wound on his face, wants them to push the button on his box in exchange for $1 million. Oh, and Steward – working for a mysterious “employer” – (could this be the “’Chief Commander’ Bob Dylan alludes to in that 60 Minutes interview?) tells the couple that someone, they don’t know, will die after the button is pushed.

A moral dilemma, indeed. But the couple needs the money following Arthur’s failure to proceed in his desire to be an astronaut and Norma’s issues at the school she teaches at, and where she is teaching her class Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.

 And eventually Norma gives in, under the pressure, and pushes the button in the mysterious box.

In the June 2011 review of The Box at, Jay offers the “The Box: Esoteric Analysis – Shadow Government Revealed.”

Jay writes that Kelly’s film is the “most ‘Illuminist’ film” he had seen since Kubrick’s final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut. He notes that The Box is a film where “science and magick are indistinguishable.” This, of course, is a reference to an Arthur C. Clarke quote that is noted in the film.

Jay’s analysis of The Box is fantastic. There are overt references to alien discovery, government surveillance, Freemasonic ceremonies, and a scene of a television focusing on the Twin Towers (circa 1970’s). A wink to Donnie Darko, released in the autumn of '01?

Steward, we learn, was hit by lightning during a NASA experiment. It was believed he was dead, but Steward comes to and is possessed by an “entity” and disappears – until he begins to approach random couples, at the behest of his “employers,” and offer them this damnable “gift.”

Another esoteric-minded review of The Box notes: “The Box is defined by the tension between the structure of the labyrinth – an absolute labyrinth, leading nowhere except deeper into itself – and the structure of the dilemma – in which reality seems to resolve into a set of disjunctions.”

Like Donnie Darko, Kelly sets the The Box against a holiday – the weeks leading up to Christmas 1976, compared to Halloween 1988 in Donnie Darko.

Why the link with holidays and during the periods where presidents are being elected.? The Box definitely has a conspiracy side to it. In fact it’s hard to ignore. Just how much collusion is there between the NSA and Arlington Steward’s offers? Consider how both George H.W. Bush (1988) and Gerald Ford (1976) are featured in Donnie Darko and The Box, respectively.

And there is a conspiracy sync/link here, dear reader. Just last month, noted: “Despite his claims to the contrary, there is documentary evidence that George H.W. Bush was in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 (when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated), and was affiliated with the CIA, despite protests that he was not associated with the agency until President Gerald R. Ford appointed him director in 1976.”

George H.W. Bush served as CIA director between January 1976 and January 1977, during the time period in The Box. Ford, of course, would serve on the Warren Commission, which was tasked to investigate the JFK assassination, an “investigation” that many consider an outright farce and cover-up. And Ford? He was an outspoken proponent of the lone gunman theory.

Richard Kelly is clearly schooled in esoteric ideas and knowledge and is bending over backwards to place these themes in his films. The Box seems to pay homage to Stanley Kubrick. And like the films of Kubrick, Kelly’s films are worth repeated viewings.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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