It's A Headless Blunder Operating Under The Illusion Of A Master Plan: Cube (1997)

I am really starting to like this blind buying of DVD lots from websites, partially because I can almost always be assured that at least on film in the set of random DVD's will prove to be out of print or obscure enough to mean I can sell it back and break even or in many cases gain a profit.  However, I am also beginning to find that it is allowing me to obtain copies of films that I would under no other circumstance even consider watching, let alone purchasing, only to discover that they are quite enjoyable and hidden gems of sorts.  This has certainly proven to be the case with the semi-obscure Canadian science fiction thriller made on a shoestring budget, which is filled the brim with philosophical musings and mathematical conundrums.  The film is narratively dense and while the acting certainly lacks, it is a nice reminder of how a great vision can translate into a deeply complex film with a bit of creativity and a minimal amount of support.  I am hoping that with the emergence of online crowd funding sites like Kickstarter that we will see a ressurgance of such films, but time will tell, until then we can embrace works like this and Primer as reminders of cinemas power even when detached from grandiosity.  Cube certainly receives a lot of flack for its open-endedness and lack of explanation, but I personally resent such attacks, because an in medias res approach is quite popular and is rarely ever contested when used by somebody like Tarantino or Fincher.  I think a majority of the greatest films ever offered do similar things, hell I took an entire course on Stanley Kubrick and probably no with less certainty as to what the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey represents.  What makes a film like Cube good, and I am not suggesting it is anywhere close to Kubrick's masterpiece, is that it allows for such an open-ended viewing experience and multiplicity of interpretations that it begs to be watched repeatedly and with others, if only to find oneself continually perplexed.  Apparently there is a sequel and prequel, neither of which I have seen, nor really plan to since they explain the existence of the cube and "justify" its existence.  Although I did watch the short film "Elevated" which was director Vinenzo Natali's example of what Cube could be, and while it is certainly completely different in, nonetheless, is quite excellent.

Cube begins with a man moving through various cube shaped rooms of different colors.  We known little information about this man, aside from the clear fact that he is confused and cautious as he navigates through the rooms, yet his paranoia is confronted when a huge wired wall slices through him, instantly turning him into some sort of cubed meat pile.  We are then given a title and introduced to a new set of characters, the overly aggressive Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint) who seems content on use brute force to traverse the cubes, the conspiracy oriented psychiatrist Holloway (Nicky Gaudagni), a sheepish math whiz named Leaven (Nicole de Boer) whose brains eventually prove necessary for breaking the codes of each room and the lackadaisical and dismissive Worth (David Hewlett) who it is eventually revealed helped to design the outer layer of the cube.  Another individual named Rennes (Wayne Robson) is with the group, a profession escape artist, he is the first to die as his zealousness to escape and the groups desire to follow him lead to his incineration via an unexpected trap.  The group then begins to consider various methods to navigate the rooms, eventually discovering the mentally handicapped Kazan (Andrew Miller) who Holloway immediately begins protecting, despite the contesting of Quentin who sees his childlike mentality as threatening, particularly when they encounter a trapped room that is sound activated.  Eventually the puzzle becomes more intricate and it is only through collective shared knowledge that the group is able to find a point of exit, this, of course, is not without the loss of a few individuals and even once they have figured out the puzzle, something quite similar to a rubick's cube, they are fully aware that much of their escape is predicated on contingency and chance, a fact that leads to violent frustrations and explosive paranoia.  Only one of the group eventually survives and what happens to them after this escape is left unknown, which is decidedly for the best.

I mentioned that interpretations run wild when considering what this film truly represents.  There is the lazy argument that it is simply an box of death with no justification, however, that reading is terrible considering the clear and open desire Natali possessed in creating this film, such a passion does not equate to a simple cool film, but something far grander.  Another far more valid interpretation is that the cube represents purgatory and a set of lost souls attempt to navigate this space in order to obtain salvation, and while a white light ending and varied levels of sin emerge within the film, many characters are punished for what appears to be nothing, dismissing such a reading as perfect, because forgiveness and salvation hardly factor into the end result.  I would contest, instead, that Cube represents a metaphor for considering the explanation of human existence.  We have varied philosophical outlooks occupying the space of the cube, whether it be Quentin's Randian objectivism or Worth's near Sartrean existentialism, all made the worse when he admits that his small cog cannot allow for enough information to understand the larger mechanics of the cube, or in this case human existence. Even Leaven manages to fail in her trial and error methods, ones clearly influence by Descartes, whom is directly referenced in his Cartesian plain theory.  In this reading then, Holloway represents an activist oriented social justice advocate, yet her overt concern with being right about justice, manages to cause her to be pretentious and demeaning even when she assumes that her powers of making good are always right.  This makes Kazan interesting in that his childlike state and detachment from paranoia and confusion are almost Buddhist in their execution, he is scared by physical harm as it assures his death, yet he has no concern for planning to avoid it and simply wanders the rooms as he sees fit, it is no surprise that he has survived up until being discovered, because he finds safety in simplicity and does not lose his mind, because it simply does not operate on a hyperrational level.  It is interesting then to consider the order with which the group dies, as well as who ultimately survives, as it may or may not provide answer to how we, as viewers, should engage with the world.

Key Scene:  The opening sequence to Cube is so jarring that I found myself initially distracted by Facebook only to immediately shut my computer and zone into this film, it sets the pace for an unusual and unique sci-fi offering that has been tragically overlooked.

This movie is a low-budget masterpiece and subpar acting moments aside, it is well worth owning, although you may have to hope on finding it in the wild, because it is not the cheapest DVD available on Amazon.

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