Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rent "The Box" this weekend. Seriously.

Once in a very great while, an artist comes out of nowhere and channels the most ineffably unconscious currents of an age into pop culture artifacts. Often it seems as if these artists are only half-aware of what it is they are channeling. Richard Kelly is one of these.

Donnie Darko
was one of those come-from-nowhere hits that tap into an unspoken mood not only in the nation's youth but the collective consciousness as a whole. Darko was released a few weeks after 9/11, and its themes of aircrashes and time paradoxes synched with some of the more esoteric interpretations of the event.

Southland Tales was much less successful, but its failure was a result of reckless over-ambition, a bug that bites most young auteurs. But it too resonated with the mood of the country at the time, if not (quite) a bit more self-consciously. But one thing it had in common with Darko was its fringe science underpinings - mapping out a space where science and mysticism rejoin and tear away at the very fabric of consensus reality. Kind of a thruline there for Kelly, and his latest film The Box brings all of it into a much sharper focus than before.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone that Kelly's father worked for that most arcane of government agencies, NASA (known as "NAZCA NASA" around these parts). Or that he worked on that most hyper-resonant of projects, the Viking Mars Mission. Kelly draws upon that history in The Box, putting his male lead Arthur Lewis (played by James Marsden of X-Men fame) in his father's shoes, literally.

A darker take on the old Heavenly Beam riff

The film is ostensibly based on an old Robert Bloch story but really isn't, outside of the basic premise. Kelly takes all of this into extremely esoteric territory, dealing with the hidden forces that govern our lives (lifting a major riff from the X-Files episode "Space," a brilliant story that got killed when Ten Thirteen started hitting the wall with money and schedules).

Kelly also drenches every frame of The Box in a dream-reality ambiance that owes much more than a nod to David Lynch. There's not a lot more I can say without risking spoilage, so let's just say that The Box is a Synchromystic's delight, girded with fringe science and exopolitical undertones.

The fringe science angle is especially fascinating - even though Kelly sets the film in his native Virginia, he filmed most of in the suburbs of Boston, including a few areas I have some connections to or have spent some time around. That's getting us close to Walter Bishop Country, for those of you keeping track at home. The locations turn out to be very appropriate, given the mind-bending subtext of the story.

But there's an even deeper- and more disturbing- subtext to the story that has to do with the exact nature of the Frank Langella character and who he represents. And did I mention that the conceit of the film revolves around the old Arthur C. Clarke line about advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic?

That's an endorsement in and of itself, right?

UPDATE: Just a few miles down the road from Langely AFB (where much of the action in The Box takes place) comes this video in which a former New Hampshire Assemblyman claims that he was privy to information pertaining to a meeting between President Eisenhower and extraterrestrials.

Is this a genuine whistleblower? A hoax? Some kind of viral marketing? Can't rightly say, but the sync is certainly quite tasty. NOTE: The video was released on Tuesday, nine days after I watched (and tweeted about) The Box.

Speaking of syncs (and Air Force bases), this book literally dropped in my lap the other night in circumstances too complicated to explain. But I'm reading it now, being the obedient soul that I am. Predictably, it didn't waste any time taking me from Nellis (a form of Knowles, btw) AFB to the Giza plateau. Read all about it here.


  1. Up to 444 followers, I see. The temptation of Arthur... cutting it a bit close, perhaps. Langella always plays the devil, he's very good at it.

  2. Hi Chris,

    I haven't seen The Box yet, but want to soon. Its based on Richard Matheson's short story, The Button, isn't it? That story was also the basis for the Twilight Zone episode, "Button, Button", i believe.

  3. unrelated: figured you might like this.

  4. That's all I need to hear Chris - is on my list for the weekend!

  5. I thought there were a few plot holes, those aside, I thought The Box was far better than most esoteric movies and I recommended it at my blog too.

  6. Fan of David Lynch and Philip K. Dick NEED to see The Box. I've always been very sceptical of Donnie Darko, but The Box floored me. Despite a couple of clumsy moments, it's 100% proof Gnostic sci fi. I loved the way it managed to explain so much of its plot, and yet left so much for you to try and figure out. Especially, the way it a left a very unsettling ambiguity about the Langella character and his controllers - are we going into the Pure Light, or just stuck in a cruel, fundamentally rigged game? Peolple made such a fuss over the more pedestrian Moon, but I think The Box is definitely destined for future cult status.

  7. Hey, Chris, I remember telling you to watch it months ago, I'm glad you did it ehhehe
    I think the scene that I enjoyed most was the one with the water/teleportation/coffin,
    trully amazing,
    maybe I'll rewatch it tomorrow just to see if I missed something,

  8. The Box wasn't bad. It doesn't seem quite finished. Frank Langella is really the best part of the movie. It reminded me a lot of the Day the Earth Stood Still remake as well as Knowing (which Kelly was working on until he got replaced by Proyas).

    The upcoming Adjustment Bureau (based on a PKD short)looks similar as well.

  9. Not related, but this is interesting. There are a lot of CG Jung Red Book events at the Hammer Museum at UCLA this month

  10. Hi Chris,

    I look forward to getting hold of a copy of The Box this weekend. Sounds Spiffing! (Ooops, after-effect of the Cam & Clegg Public School-boy take-over)

    Please take 5 to check out the recent Crop Circle (another C-C)at this following link :

    ....And this is wot I came across when trying to find out what Twitter was all about :

    Twitter Blog

    "Twitter for Android: Robots like to share too
    Friday, April 30, 2010
    When we tweet what’s happening around us, we share not only our thoughts, but also web pages, photos, videos, location...anything. Mobile phones are increasingly part of our lives, and we seem to be doing everything but making phone calls. Reading the news, watching a YouTube video, and taking photos at events like the World Cup are things we expect to do on mobile phones – sharing our experiences on these little screens should be just as easy and fast as on big ones.
    When apps work well with each other, sharing becomes as second nature on machines as it does in person. The Android platform is really good at that, and we’ve worked with the Android team to make it super easy to share what’s happening. Today we are excited to announce that Twitter for Android is available in Android Market!"

    "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" well, I reckon they do.

    Set your settings for Sentience!

    Sooopah! x

  11. I didn't waste any time. Great tip! Thanks, Chris.

    Sufficiently stylistically period - as if the film itself had been made in that year, but with what we know now; without our current technology, but a modern application of design. Or something.

  12. My gods, Prof. Knowles, this blogticle has veritably set me on edge, vertigo & butterflies both setting in, so, as a prescient artist my(s)elf, I'll just have to put it on my Netflix queue now. Captcha coinky-dink? My brother's an Aspergian, his name's Rob, and he often says it like Rochob, the middle 'och' kinda Yiddish-sounding. Well, rochob is my word veri for this! Dun-dun-DUNNNNN!

    As for Langella being an adept @ playing the Debbil, well, I beg to differ, Michael, since ever since having seen him in a late '70s B'way production of Dracula, the entire stage sets designed by Edward Gorey, lending a macabre cartoon-y aspect to everything, he seemed a master of camp, not scare, & anywho, ever since he moved in with Whoopi Goldberg, well, I can never take him seriously again, despite him starring as a the millionaire Satanist, Boris Balkan, dead set on achieving his own apotheosis by hiring bookfinding sleuth, Johnny Depp, to find the one grimoire actually penned by Lucifer himself in the excellent albeit sluggish Polanski thriller, The Ninth Gate. Have an excellent weekend, ye Knowles family & all ye presents, and remain ye thrice blessed. Namasté ~ (•8-D

  13. Michael- Or is he an angel? The line is very thin, innit?

    Brooke-Very loosely. I read the original and the film is pretty far afield.

    Terry- Hilarious.

    David- Right on.

    Lesley- Plot holes give you breathing room!

    Tristan- You said it. Well put.

    Daniel- You get star of the day then!

    Anony- Kelly was working on Knowing? Wow- that's extremely interesting. Boston again.

    JH- Cool. Thanks for the scoop.

    Flossy- Wow. I'll tell you, I don't know what's making those things but it aint just a bunch of wacky hoaxsters.

    Speaking of robots, I had my first real-world encounter with one at the hospital today. A bit unsettling, actually- kind of a R2D2 thing.

    Davidly - Maybe YOU get star of the day!

    Anadae- Langella hooked up with Whoopi too? Sheesh- that woman must a magical vagina! Ninth Gate? Meh- didn't do much for me one way or another.

  14. I am not very familiar with Sci Fi, but I found this movie so interesting that I went looking for people who were talking about it. Here I am.

    My point of entry is different, I thought the writer was analyzing the notion of what constitutes a justifiable murder with an emphasis on country/military and religious purposes.

    Without spoiling the movie, particularly if my thesis is wrong .. Fort Dix H1N1 happened in 1976 and almost every character's name (first and last) represents a different US historical figure. I walked away from the movie with hunch about Arthur and Norma and then lost a whole day of work google hunting the rest.

    I believe in God and I think that the writer handled the many perspectives on God, man and aliens brilliantly.

    I know there is so much more. Super smart.

  15. ps. on H1N1 link - this movie was released 3 days? after the Goldman/Citi vaccine story broke and a handful of days before the President declared a state of emergency (CDC always emphasizing pregnant women).

    I think what happened this past fall with H1N1 was highly predictable. Smart market timing for a smart movie producer, not a part of government theater.

  16. Chris, sarcasm is always enjoyable when well played, hahahah
    tell me where I can pick up my star:)

    well, I was browsing reddit, when an ad for this movie popped up in front of me, I haven't watched it yet, but something tells me it will be interresting,
    movie is "THE MAN FROM EARTH",
    here's the trailer
    imdb page

  17. Thanks Chris for bringing this movie to the forefront. When I first watched it about 3/4 way through the movie my wife looked at me and said "This movie was made for you". I recommend anyone who watches it to use the closed captions to catch the language (I always do this on my second watch of a movie if so inspired to watch it multiple times) that is sometime missed and listen to any background (like radio/tv). By the way it was the first mention of Aurthur Clark that sat me up on the first watch.

  18. @Daniel:
    One of the reasons I changed my name to davidly was out of potential SAG considerations (a point long since moot) because the lead in that film has the exact same name as I do.

  19. OK... wow. I watched this as suggested and was not let down. This thing is thick with "meaning". There were some altogether blatant occurrences "42", multiple times. Too much more to mention here. I gotta say, the red eye (button) slaps you right in the face from step 1. I might have to do a piece on this one... Good find Chris, this slipped right past me! I loved Donnie Darko too, so this one makes up for the lack issued forth in Southland Tales. (IMHO)

  20. 444 - the number related to Obama and Lincoln - and the number of jewels on the Crown of Her Royal Majesty (whatever it is called)...

  21. Hey Chris,

    I read that the first two Area 51 books a long time ago. I enjoyed them but they went really wild after that and I got distracted by other things. But I think you'll like them.

    Engines of God is pretty good too, in case you haven't already read it:

    Have you ever read Dreamland and Dreamchild by Hilary Hemingway (Papa's Grandbaby) and Jeffrey P. Lindsay? If not, you should. They're hypnotic and chaotic and make weird sense, just like the best of The X Files and Strieber. They're kinda hard to find, but it's doable. And worth the hunt.

    Deb Mac from Facebook

  22. I wonder how much of this analysis is on target. Quite a few very compelling theories.