Halloween is right around the corner! Are you looking for a scary film to ring in the spooky season? You’ll want to check out The Box!
The Box is a thriller released in 2009 and was directed by Richard Kelly. The film stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a married couple who are facing financial difficulties. But when a strange man offers them a box that will give them $1 million with the press of a button, the pair are still reluctant. That’s because someone will die when they press the button.
The Box is filled with twists and turns, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats for the entire two-hour film. But there may be some premises that are difficult to understand. Don’t worry, we will cover the basics of the film as well as explaining the ending.
With that being said, this article does contain spoilers. We suggest you watch the movie first before reading the rest of this article.
Have you watched the film and have questions? Well, let’s get to it!
The Box: The Story
Does the premise of The Box sound familiar? That’s because it’s based on the short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson (which was also turned into the Twilight Zone episode of the same name). However, the film The Box goes deeper into the story and provides an explanation of how the box works.
The film starts off with Norma (played by Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (played by James Marsden) waking up early in the morning to the doorbell ringing. Norma answers the door to find an odd box at her doorstep. There’s no one at the door, but a mysterious black sedan drives away.
As the film goes on, you discover Norma and Arthur are suffering from financial difficulties. Arthur, who works for NASA, wasn’t selected to undergo a mission. Norma discovered the private school she works for won’t offer a discount for her son’s education.
That’s why they were more than willing to listen to the mysterious man, Mr. Steward (played by Frank Langella) when he said the family will receive $1 million if they push the button on that box they received. However, someone they don’t know will die.
What did Norma and Arthur do? Well, they pushed the button, of course! However, they immediately regretted it when Mr. Steward came over, handed them the money, and explained the box will be reprogrammed and someone else will receive the box. Someone they don’t know.
From here, the film takes the viewer on a rollercoaster. You discover who Mr. Steward is, why he’s asking random strangers to accept $1 million in exchange for the life of a stranger, and what it all means in the end.
Not only that, but this film still holds so much mystery and unanswered questions. Overall, this film is so insane, it’s impossible to predict the ending.
Who Are the Characters?
We mentioned Norma, Arthur, and Mr. Steward. There are a few other important characters, such as Norma’s and Arthur’s son Walter and Arthur’s boss Norm Cahill (played by James Rebhorn).
Norma is a teacher. While at school, a student asks her why she limps. She takes off her shoe to reveal her disfigurement — she’s missing four of her toes. You discover the doctor left her on the x-ray machine and the radiation destroyed her toes. This is important because she can sympathize with Mr. Steward’s facial disfigurement and struggles to pay for an operation that corrects her foot.
Arthur is a NASA engineer who helped create a revolutionary camera. He’s a tech and sci-fi nerd, which comes in handy during some parts of the film (for example, he opens up the box to see what’s controlling it).
At first, Mr. Steward is a strange man with severe facial disfigurement. As the film progresses, you learn Mr. Steward was one of Arthur’s old co-workers who went missing. He was killed by a lightning strike but ended up coming back to life.
He claims he works for “those who control the lightning.” They’re conducting experiments on those who press the button, which is why someone always dies when you press the button.
Walter is their son, who’s around 10 or 11 years old. He doesn’t have too much significance in the film until the end.
Unknown men kidnap Walter. Norma and Arthur discover Walter is locked in their upstairs bathroom, but the assailants left him blind and deaf. The only way to heal his condition is if Arthur shoots Norma.
Norm Cahill is one of the least significant characters. However, through him, you learn about Mr. Steward and what happened to him.
What Is the Box?
The box, known by Mr. Steward as “the button unit,” is a wooden box with a red button. A glass dome surrounds the button — the only way to access the button is to unlock the dome. Mr. Steward provides the key.
Otherwise, the box is a mystery. Arthur opens up the box. There’s nothing in it — no gears, machinery, technology, or anything. It’s unknown how the box works or how Mr. Steward knows who pushes the button or who doesn’t push the button.
When asked about the box, you discover it’s symbolism. Mr. Steward explains we live in a box, we drive in a box, and we stare at a box in our homes.
The box represents our escape and our demise. We can leave our banal lives by accepting $1 million. But we accept the box and the money as a sacrifice to another — and to ourselves.
An Overview of the Ending
After Norma and Arthur accept the money, bizarre events start happening to them.
People Follow Them
You constantly see these strange zombie-like people following the family. You discover these people are other “employees” of Mr. Steward’s. Who exactly they are, we don’t know. It’s suggested they’re people who were involved in the box somehow.
Wedding Rehearsal Dinner
Norma and Arthur attend a wedding rehearsal dinner. They accept a gift. The gift is a photo of Mr. Steward before his accident.
Another bizarre event is Norma’s student who keeps giving Arthur the “peace” sign. At first, Arthur thought the student was mocking him and he attacked him. He later discovers why.
Random people around them get nosebleeds. We will discuss this later.
While running errands with her mom, a mysterious woman tells Norma to go to the library. The woman explains “all test subjects are under the age of 40. Happily married with a child. Go to the library and look up this call number.” The woman hands Norma a piece of paper with a number on it.
At the library, Norma finds a film reel. Norma plays it and discovers the scene of the lightning accident.
Arthur finds a clue about a book called The Human Resource Exploitation Manual. The cover is shown on a polaroid and the polaroid contains a call number for the book. He also goes to the library.
Instead of the Human Resource Exploitation Manual, Arthur finds another book called The Lightning Book. The book has a news article clipping of Mr. Steward’s lightning accident. After finding this clipping, a group of men follow Arthur and chase him.
From here, Arthur meets Mr. Steward’s deceased wife. Remember we mentioned the peace sign? Mr. Steward’s wife presents three water gateways and explains that one of them will lead to the exit and the other two result in eternal damnation. Arthur chooses the second one. It leads him back to his home.
When Arthur explains what happened, he said the afterlife is blissful and we’re currently in purgatory.
The Human Resource Exploitation Manual
At the wedding, Arthur is held at gunpoint by a man named Jeff. Arthur follows Jeff in his car. Jeff shows Arthur classified CIA documents of the Human Resource Exploitation Manual and explains that there’s something in our brains to control us.
Remember the nosebleeds? The nosebleeds are a side effect of this device.
Jeff also says he had to kill his wife in order to save his daughter. As they’re driving, they get into a car accident. Jeff dies but Arthur survives and is approached by a man.
Meanwhile, Norma and Walter are both kidnapped. You see a man place Norma in a pool. This pool determines if you’re good or bad. We don’t know what happens to Walter until later in the movie.
A Decision to Make
Arthur and Norma arrive at their home. They’re greeted by Mr. Steward, who explains their son, Martin, is locked upstairs in their bathroom. He’s blind and deaf.
Mr. Steward gives the family two options: keep Martin blind and deaf but keep the money, or heal Martin’s condition but Arthur has to kill Norma. If Arthur kills Norma, the $1 million will end up in a savings account for Martin. But Arthur will go to prison.
Arthur shoots Norma. Sure enough, Martin can see and hear again but the police immediately come and take Arthur away.
When Arthur and Norma learn about their decision, you see another couple with the box. The woman tells her husband she will push the button. The minute she pushes the button, Arthur shoots the gun and kills Norma.
The cycle continues.
Overall, the box really does kill someone the minute it’s pressed. That’s because every couple is given the same ultimatum in the end, as the woman at the store explained to Norma. Since there are devices pre-programmed in our brains, those who Mr. Steward works for can see when the button is pressed.
What does this mean? There’s a test being done on humans. Other beings are testing our ability to make certain decisions in life. They have discovered what makes us tick: greed. If we have the opportunity to earn $1 million at the expense of another’s life, we will take it. Which is why so many people have become victims of the box.
So, who does Mr. Steward work for? The film doesn’t tell us, but it’s theorized he works for aliens. It makes sense — they have advanced technology, insert devices in our brains, and overall these aliens are capable of things we as humans aren’t or don’t know.
This film provides a clear message: don’t fall into greed. If you do, there are always consequences.
Unfortunately, many people won’t listen to this advice. That’s why the cycle continues.
The meaning is left open and all viewers have their own interpretation. Many think this is the work of aliens while others think it’s merely symbolism for human greed and “everything has consequences.” The afterlife and Arthur saying we’re in purgatory are also major themes to consider.
Others compare the premise to the Garden of Eden; in the film, the woman is always the one who pushes the button. In the Garden of Eden, Eve eats the apple. Norma was placed in the pool — she obviously turned out to be bad.
Because of this, another interpretation of the film states that women are tricking men into this test. The aliens or other beings may have a stronger hold on women than men.
Overall, this film is very dense and there could be multiple meanings and interpretations.
There was nothing in the box. We’re not sure how it works or how it’s known who pushes the button.
Is The Box Based on a True Story?
No, but it’s based on the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button.” The popular series The Twilight Zone also made an episode based on the story.
However, all have different endings. For example, Richard Matheson’s story ends with the husband dying. Mr. Steward (they all have the same names) says, “do you really think you know your husband?” (A similar conversation occurred between Norma and Arthur in the film).
But The Twilight Zone episode ends when Mr. Steward tells Norma, “the box will be reprogrammed and given to someone you don’t know.” The camera then cuts to Norma’s horrified face as she realizes what he means.
Need More Ending Explanations?
There are lots of great movies out there, but they may not have the simplest endings. Take 2036 Origin Unknown. Are you still confused about the ending? Read our interpretation.