I just saw that movie The Box, which is about a couple in a moral quandary involving a large sum of money, a predicament that has come about due to a most unusual turn of events. Seeing The Box took me back to the nineties and taking in another movie, A Simple Plan, in which unexpectedly getting hold of some cash causes those involved a spectacular deal of trouble. With both of these films, what got me particularly interested is that it’s a woman – the male lead’s lady wife, no less – who is the one who’s all afire to grab the money, and hang the consequences.
In The Box, a young married couple, Norma and Arthur – who, on the one hand seem ordinary, but on the other, he wants to be an astronaut, and she has no toes on one of her feet – out of the blue receive a visiting card from an unusual fellow. As if merely receiving a visiting card weren’t noteworthy enough, once the stranger – Frank Langella missing a chunk of his face, yet – shows up at their house, he tells Norma that if they press the button on the contraption he has brought them, they will receive a million dollars but will also be responsible for the death of someone they don’t know. After the requisite agonising, it’s Norma (Cameron Diaz), who jumps on the button and lets the games begin. In A Simple Plan, three rural men, who again, are regular folk – at least, the one Bill Paxton plays is; one of the others is mildly mentally retarded and another is the town drunk – find millions of dollars in the cockpit of a downed plane. Thanks to a plan that Bridget Fonda, as Paxton’s wife, cooks up to hold on to the notes, everyone’s lives are, to put it plainly, ruined.
I enjoyed A Simple Plan, those many years ago, and I also enjoyed The Box, even though I hear that a lot of people believe it to be one of the worst films ever made. In its favour, as far as I’m concerned, is that it is always such a very smart move to set any horror movie in the nineteen seventies. Although everyone, their wardrobes and their houses are a delight to gaze upon, the seventies just automatically look scary to me, as I associate them with being a child and feeling afraid of everything, and having so many nightmares that my older sister was never allowed to stay up for Upstairs, Downstairs because she had to keep me company in case I screamed the place down. So, I had a good time at The Box, even though after a certain point I had no idea whatsoever what was happening – there were inexplicable nosebleeds; mysterious group activity in a motel swimming pool; and, according to the IMDb synopsis, a man dressed up as Santa Claus showing up somewhere along the line, but I’ve no memory of this. Anyway, suffice to say that Diaz pressing the button turns out to have been an extremely poor decision by the woman of the house.
Naturally, I immediately felt resentful that, as in A Simple Plan, a female was causing all the problems, but then I started to wonder what I would do were I in the same (unlikely) situation. I asked the male companion with whom I had seen The Box his opinion on the matter, and he said that not only would I have pressed the button without hesitation, I would have pressed it several times in the hope of getting more money than had been promised to me. This, in turn, reminded me of how an ex-boyfriend once told me, in all seriousness, that I reminded him of Nicole Kidman in To Die For. Naturally, all this made me reflect on the part that avarice has played in my life.
I recall that when the same ex-boyfriend had a windfall through his only ever visit to the horse races, and proposed (although I think he was quite half-hearted about it, really) that he take all his friends out to dinner, I immediately tried to talk him out of this, asking him what these people had ever done for him. I also remember getting cranky when my mother gave a few notes to an elderly beggar in a depressing eastern European country, because, I felt, she should have given the vagrant coins, which we wouldn’t have been able to exchange for Australian dollars at the end of our holiday.
And, when it comes to my tendency to let monetary concerns trump all else, there’s also my complicated relationship with those loyalty cards you get at cafes, which the person behind the counter is supposed to stamp every time you buy a coffee, so that you eventually get a free beverage. Due to the fact that I simultaneously would prefer to be someone who takes no account of loyalty cards and yet cannot resist them, whenever I get enough stamps on the card to attain a gratis coffee, I have to put on a ridiculous pantomime of pretending this is a surprise to me on the level of Halle Berry’s when she won Best Actress at the Oscars.
Still, better having to execute the pantomime than needing to hide my crushing disappointment when I don’t get the card stamped. I’ve never forgotten an infuriating morning on which I didn’t get my free coffee because the young woman who served me was distracted – and openly resentfully so – because she and her boyfriend were going to have to cancel their holiday to Tahiti because his father had just died. The thing is that when these people forget to stamp your card, you will never get that day back and so will spend the rest of your life in deficit.
Finally, though, when it comes to my own story of where keenness to get or hang on to money has led me, there’s pretty much nothing worse than, as I have done, seriously offering as a wedding present a pair of candles that were cheap even for candles, as I’d purchased them from probably the shoddiest seconds shop in the whole of Sydney, and then feeling the organ-melting shame of reading the recipients’ not even remotely sarcastic thank-you note. That makes what the folks in The Box and A Simple Plan went through seem like a piece of pie, I can assure you.