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The Box - Ladue News: Arts & Entertainment

The Box

Sartre for Sartre’s Sake

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Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009 12:00 am

How many existentialists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two, one to screw in the bulb and one to observe how the light bulb itself symbolizes a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a netherworld of endless absurdity.

The trailer made it seem simple enough: Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) appears at the door of a financially strapped couple with a box. In the box is a button. Push the button, you get a $1 million, but someone you do not know will die. Naturally, that puts Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) on the horns of dilemma…for about 10 seconds. Of course, the twist comes when Mr. Steward (heavy-handed symbolism alert) returns to retrieve the box and explains he will now make the offer to another couple…who Norma and Arthur do not know. Oops.

OK. So we have an interesting, if strained, premise. What’s next? If the next couple pushes the button will Norma die? How can they undo the damage? Well, apparently by throwing an absolutely off-the-rails absurd plot at the problem, complete with oddly comatose, psychic, zombie bystanders, laughable moments of suspense and umpteen nosebleeds.

The film is inexplicably set in 1976 and Diaz has a Southern accent I guarantee no one in Richmond, Va., has ever heard before, and the plot is beyond bizarre. Nevertheless, they take every opportunity to inform the viewer that the movie is ‘existential.’ Norma teaches Sartre to her class. The couple attends Sartre’s No Exit on date night and if anyone was out for popcorn during the first 11 references, Langella’s character proceeds to quote Sartre.

Here’s a thought: Just because something is ridiculous and illogical doesn’t make it existential. I honestly don’t know how this movie got made. I think some executive read the screenplay and was too embarrassed to speak up. It’s also possible I am missing something. What I am not missing, however, is that this is an absurd, poorly acted waste of two hours of your life, your vast enigmatic, meandering life. It's a 4.

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