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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Box

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Horror and science fiction writer Richard Matheson's 1970 short story "Button, Button"—already adapted for television as an episode of "The Twilight Zone" in the mid-1980s—comes to the big screen as "The Box" (Warner Bros.).

But writer-director Richard Kelly's intelligently challenging, if over-elaborate, reflection on ethical choices and consequences is suitable only for spiritually well-grounded adult viewers, since the latter stages of this evolving parable include actions that would be blatantly unacceptable in a more realistic context.

Slightly updated to Christmastime of the U.S. bicentennial year, this is the tale of Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) Lewis, happily married suburbanites in Richmond, Va., and their preteen son Walter (Sam Oz Stone).

With teacher Norma facing budget cuts at her school, and NASA engineer Arthur uncertain of his future, cash is short, and the planned surgery to repair Norma's foot, deformed by a doctor's malpractice years before, may have to be postponed.

Suddenly, though, the arrival of a mysterious package on their doorstep, and the subsequent visit of one Arlington Steward (a haunting Frank Langella)—the equally mysterious, and horrifically disfigured stranger who left it there—present the couple with a stark temptation.
The package contains a simple-looking device, a wooden box with a glass dome enclosing a red button. If either Norma or Arthur pushes the button, Steward explains, two things will happen: Someone unknown to them will die, and they will receive a tax-free payment of $1 million. They have 24 hours to decide what to do.

As the sometimes improbable plot unfolds, we learn that Steward's unsettling appearance (most of the left side of his face has been reduced to raw tissue) is the result of burns sustained in a lightning strike, an event that also put him in touch with those he calls his "employers," unspecified beings—perhaps extraterrestrial, perhaps heavenly in a different sense—who use him as their agent in testing human morality.

Amid an increasingly eerie atmosphere, meanwhile, Norma and Arthur are caught up in a surreal conspiracy reminiscent of the one surrounding Mia Farrow's character in "Rosemary's Baby." Against this background, the shifting forces of fundamental decency, momentary impetuosity, human interdependence and the inexorable demands of justice are pitted in a mostly intriguing drama, though one that requires careful discernment.

The film contains mature themes, complex moral issues, a few uses of profanity and a couple of sexual references. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L— limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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James Oldo: You’ve heard rags-to-riches stories. Today, we celebrate the reverse. 
<p>James of Oldo was born into a well-to-do family near Milan in 1364. He married a woman who, like him, appreciated the comforts that came with wealth. But an outbreak of plague drove James, his wife and their three children out of their home and into the countryside. Despite those precautions, two of his daughters died from the plague, James determined to use whatever time he had left to build up treasures in heaven and to build God’s realm on earth. </p><p>He and his wife became Secular Franciscans. James gave up his old lifestyle and did penance for his sins. He cared for a sick priest, who taught him Latin. Upon the death of his wife, James himself became a priest. His house was transformed into a chapel where small groups of people, many of them fellow Secular Franciscans, came for prayer and support. James focused on caring for the sick and for prisoners of war. He died in 1404 after contracting a disease from one of his patients. </p><p>James Oldo was beatified in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog Even when skies are grey and clouds heavy with tears, the sun rises. So to with our souls, burdened by life’s sins and still He rises.

 
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