Maternal Sentimentality and "The Box"

Not that it matters much with this dreadful film, but if you're worried about spoilers, don't read this post till you've seen the movie. You've been warned. Proceed past the jump at your own risk. Movie trailer can be found here.

Norma and Arthur have been given a box! With a button! Push the button and get a million bucks! Only, well, someone has to die. Dang. Norma's a nice girl, but she pushes the button anyway. And then watches it rise again in all its slow motion phallic majesty.

So, it turns out, the fancy little button boxes are being doled out only to married couples with one child. (Soooo hetereonormative. Gay and lesbian couples with children can be only too glad to have been left out of this marriage-associated privilege.) And it seems it's the doggone women who are doing the button-pushing every time. As each woman lays her hand upon that red-topped phallus, the husband of some previous sorry-assed couple shoots his wife through the heart. Soon, it will be the new couple's turn to enact the domestic violence drama - with a twist.

You see, in each case, the woman begs - she begs, I tell you - her beloved to put a bullet in her heart, the heart that is filled to overflowing with love for him and their child. Tears roll down Cameran Diaz's cheeks as she proclaims her undying love for what's-his-name, and how she will wait for the day when he at last joins her on the other side in eternity, blah blah blah. No, no, he protests, I cannot kill you. But he does it anyway, because there's some other woman somewhere who can't keep her hand off that million-dollar mechanical cock, and because he must kill her, because her life is required to save the life of their child, and it must be at his hand - she cannot take her own life.

Well, not really save the life of the child, per se. The child has been kidnapped by... I don't know, lightning bolt-wielding space aliens from Mars or something, who have rendered him deaf and blind. If Daddy shoots Mommy, Junior will magically and instantly have his sight and hearing restored.

Apparently, despite all the tv time logged in Norma and Arthur's household, none of it was allocated to watching The Miracle Worker. They spend all of about two minutes deciding that yes, the only solution is for Mommy to die, and none of this time is spent discussing whether or not a deaf-blind child could have any reasonable quality of life - especially if he still had both of his parents living and loving him, both free of alien mind control. But I digress.

The salient point in all this is that Mommy is the spouse begging the other to shoot her on behalf of the child. Because while this convoluted script riddled with plot holes begs you to suspend disbelief in quantities you didn't even know you possessed, even the crazy writers knew that nobody was going to buy a climactic scene in which Daddy begs Mommy to shoot him for the sake of the kid.

No, that particular bit of garbled nonsense absolutely depends upon us all being ass-deep in cultural notions of maternal sentimentality. Of course Cameron Diaz will weep in a most fetching manner and practically come with sanctified grievous joy over the notion that she can sacrifice her life for her child! With what subdued, final erotic pleasure does she grasp the revolver barrel and pull it close, nestled against her bosom, so that her husband can aim his last bullet into her straight and true.

Can you, for one microsecond, imagine a handsome white male actor in a heterosexual role playing that same scene, and having it make any sort of sense to the mass viewing audience? I think not. We don't have a shared discourse of men being will to do anything, sacrifice anything, for their children - we don't have a discourse of paternal sentimentality.

Who knows, maybe originally the script had guys hittin' the button. But the wise heads in Hollywood said, "Aliens who control lightning? Yes. Floating boxes of water that are portholes to the afterlife? Sure. Some dude with half his face missing wandering all over Richmond in broad daylight and attracting absolutely no attention? Why not. But weeping men begging to be shot to save their kid's sight and hearing? Who's gonna buy that kind of crazy?"

Those damn space aliens. They thought they were accurately testing the morals and ethics of human beings. If only instead of a phallic button, they'd provided each couple with a strokable velvety cleft, or a sensuous, supple, peach-sized ball with a nipply appendage. The d00dz would have their hands all over those puppies, and they wouldn't be waiting till fifteen minutes before the 24-hour deadline expired. Then, when they were faced with the final test of volunteering to be shot for the kid, they'd be all "honey, we'll get him the best schools and teachers! We've got a million bucks to spend on him, remember?!!?!?!" And since patriarchy rulz, he'd wrestle the gun out of her hand, fire off the one bullet harmlessly, and life would go on, no matter what the next d00d was doing with his velvety cleft-in-a-box. The aliens would be completely confounded because their spooky action-at-a-distance experiment wouldn't be working as planned, and eventually they'd give up and go away.

Now that would be a slightly more believable movie. But I guess a script like that would be a much more difficult sell than one trotting out reliable tropes of maternal sentimentality and the irresistible power of the phallus.

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By Mike Olson (not verified) on 14 Nov 2009 #permalink

You made that sound WAY more interesting than the trailer made it look.

I seem to recall that this was originally a Twilight Zone episode in the mid-'80s with Brad Davis? Maybe the plot is so thin because they stretched out 25 minutes of improbability into a whole movie, and had to fill in the gaps with something?

There were better episodes to make into movies. I wonder why they chose this one?

I disagree. Not with Zuska or anyone here... I disagree because the entire idea is so disagreeable.

Are you sure it's realistic to think the men would think of "the best schools and teachers! We've got a million bucks to spend on him, remember?" If we're talking reality based wouldn't he rationalize that one parent has to survive to spend the money so it may as well be him, then wrestle the gun from her and shoot her. (I'm basing this cynicism on the popularity of Fox talking heads)

That would be an even less appealing movie LOL

I think the ending would be best if mommy would tell daddy that he's not the real daddy , shoot daddy then kid is A ok, she has the 1 million dollars and goes into the sunset with super hunk who's the real baby daddy.

I think the best ending would be if social services were to decide (fairly reasonably) that a man who shoots his wife is NOT EXACTLY THE BEST PERSON to be looking after a child, and the kid gets adopted by a gay couple who never get bothered by crazy aliens :)

And they all life happily ever after.

@lab rat: right on , your ending is so much better.

Having seen this film with Zuska I solemnly swear that this is both a true account of the film and an analysis that's much funnier than the film is suspenseful.

By dr. cindy (not verified) on 16 Nov 2009 #permalink

They could have written an ending that has the man die and preserve his masculine, heterosexual image. Of course, he'd have to be portrayed as all stoic and dutiful, no begging, so nobody would think he was less of a man, but still.

No, they wanted to make it follow a particular story about how women can't be trusted with temptation. I suppose the button was candy apple red. Any sign of talking snakes?