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Many years ago, in a Game far far away, I had a bit of cash to spend (and absolutely no idea what to spend it on), so I wandered over to their discount bargain DVD bin and started poking through it. As I recall, I bought exactly 3 DVDs that day. Two of them are forever lost to me – because that was the day I discovered the Cube universe.
At this point I think I’ve seen just about every trope there is, retold in hundreds of different ways. I have yet to see Fast and Furious: Middle Ages, with horse-drifting and choirs of singing inn-wenches though, but that’s probably something Hollywood would do if given the budget.
What I haven’t seen though, is something so beautifully executed as Cube. And I do mean “executed” literally – Cube Zero opens with a man getting sprayed with acid, then melting into a pile of bones right on screen while two remote operators watch it happen.
The idea behind it is fascinating to me. The world of Cube just exists. Three movies have been made, with no apparent connection between them, other than the existence of a giant cube that kills people.
Usually, when three movies are made about the same thing, the writers will strive for some semblance of continuity – world-building, rationalization, or something thematic to tie them together.
I know I’m guilty of this – whenever I think of a scene, character or technology that would be awesome to write about, I find myself stuck on trying to rationalize exactly how or why such a thing would exist.
But not Cube. The first movie was released in 1997, and apparently had no direction other than “hey what if six people woke up in a cube full of cube-shaped rooms, and some rooms have deadly traps in them”.
And that’s the entire movie – six characters, speculating about why they’re here, with no answers or resolution in sight, slowly going crazy and eventually trying to kill one another off.
Cube offered no answers, no rationalization, no explanation. The characters existed, were filled out somewhat, and were then killed off in various brutal ways, with only one (the weakest in the group) apparently managing to escape the cube – but even his fate is unclear, and the movie ends with no resolution.
A few years later it was followed up with Cube 2: Hypercube – a movie that succeeded in answering absolutely nothing about its predecessor. Same basic story: A bunch of strangers, stuck in a cube with cube-shaped rooms, and some of the rooms have traps in them.
Except: this was 2002, and the cube existed as a theoretical experiment (Military? Corporate? Who knows?) – a confusing mix of looping time, folding space, parallel realities, and the perfect end to any of the three movies: An ending that answers absolutely nothing.
It turns out that one of the people in the cube was actually working for some shadowy organization, and had to track down someone else inside the cube, even though this organization is supposedly the one that put everyone in the cube in the first place.
This person had some sort of storage device on them unlike anything else in the world, which was on them when they were kidnapped. At the end, it turns out that the experiment itself has an expiration date, and through a confusing sequence of events the last surviving character reappears in the real world, hands over the recording device, and is promptly shot in the head.
What was the experiment? Why were these people chosen? What was on the recording device? Why shoot your own agent? How do you even create something like this hypercube? No answers.
The latest movie, and the one I watched first, was the prequel – Cube Zero. It’s set before the events of the first Cube, and attempts to offer some sort of rationalization for why the cube exists – it’s either a highly-unethical experiment, or a government program, or some sort of secret military project.
Or it’s a public works project gone wrong, or it’s an elaborate execution facility, or something else entirely.
For no reason at all, random people are brought to this facility, given no instructions, and are left to figure out the rules before they all die (and they inevitably all die).
And this includes the people in charge of the place – the wardens are prisoners, and the people on the higher floors (to which you must never go) have some sort of threat hanging over them too. It’s never ultimately clear who’s in charge, or what’s actually being accomplished here.
Which makes it one of my favorite movies of all time. Nobody in the movie seems to know what’s going on, and the only person who does seem to know is either a plant, or crazy.
It’s a perfect, nightmarish machine – the love child of malice and incompetence – efficient, brutal and fundamentally irrational.
Despite all of that (or maybe because of it), on some level, it just works – it’s captivating to watch, it raises more questions than answers, and leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks. As compared to most Hollywood movies nowadays, which trip over themselves to explain what’s going on, Cube is a rare find.
If you enjoy movies that don’t have clear endings, raise questions about human morality, and leave the reasons for their existence wide open to speculation, you’ll enjoy these.