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Capsule Review – “The Cube” by Vincenzo Natali

October 24th, 2009 by David Kronemyer · 1 Comment

“The Cube” is an oppressive, claustrophobic movie by the director Vincenzo Natali. It is about the escapades of seven people who are trapped inside of a gigantic cube. The cube comprises 26 equally-sized rooms on each side for a total of 17,576 rooms altogether. Each room is bathed in a different color light. The rooms move periodically around a core in much the same manner as a large Rubick’s cube. At a certain stage of their movements one of the cubes becomes a bridge to the outside world.

Some of the rooms have ingenious and lethal traps in them. These progressively dispatch two of the characters (Alderson and Rennes). One of the characters named Quentin (who is a police officer) commandeers the position of group leader. He goes progressively crazy and eventually kills three of the other characters, Holloway, Worth and Leaven. He then gets squashed in-between the movement of cubes. This leaves one person left, Kazan, who in the end appears to escape.

Here are some of the ways it is possible to interpret this macabre tale.

1. It is a commentary on the bleakness of modern technology. Nobody knows who built the cube (not even Worth, who, it is revealed, is an engineer that participated in its design). Nobody knows its purpose. Nobody knows how it came to be inhabited with the protagonists, though their talents are eerily complimentary. The cube itself is huge, impassive and seems to operate automatically.

2. It is a commentary on man’s inhumanity against man and the stupidity of authority figures. Quentin is not a good leader. Rather than inspiring the group he berates and threatens them. He is easily frustrated. He wants to abandon Kazan. He ends up killing three of his fellow denizens.

3. It is a commentary on the futility of inductive reasoning. Rennes initially believes he has figured out a way to avoid rooms that are booby-trapped by throwing in a pair of shoes and seeing if a trap is activated. This method proves to be unsuccessful and he dies from being sprayed with acid.

4. It is a commentary on human ingenuity in the face of danger. Leaven turns out to be a student who is smart about prime numbers and geometry. The crawl spaces between each cube have three three-digit numbers on the entry ledge. She observes that if each of these numbers is prime then the next cube is booby-trapped. Later Quentin almost gets caught by a trap in a room she thought she had cleared. So much for that theory. She then hypothesizes that instead of being primes the numbers are prime powers so they need to factor them before entering the adjacent cube. This is a brute-force arithmetical task beyond Leaven’s abilities to do easily. At this point it is revealed that Kazan is an autistic savant with an ability to quickly factor primes, which enables them to push forward.  Leaven also (correctly) hypothesizes the numbers are Cartesian coordinates that can be used to calculate the position of rooms within the cube. The numbers represent each room’s location; how many times it moves; and where it ends up in the grid.

5. It is a commentary on the futility of purposeful human endeavor. Towards the end of the film, following arduous progress, the group ends up back in the same cube where they started. It would have been more efficacious for them simply to stay there, attempt to figure out its movements, and then escape. The only person eventually to escape is Kazan, the autistic savant.

In conclusion I mildly recommend this movie. It is not as good as say “Stalker” but then again it has more modest ambitions.