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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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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