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Entry updated 27 March 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1997). Trimark Pictures and The Feature Film Project present a Cube Libre production in association with Téléfilm Canada, Ontario Film Development Corporation, The Harold Greenberg Fund and Viacom Canada. Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Written by André Bijelic, Graeme Manson and Vincenzo Natali. Cube device designed by David Pravica. Cast includes Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller and Maurice Dean Wint. 90 minutes. Colour.

Six characters are contained within a kind of Pocket Universe designed to test the limits of human Perception. When the fiendishly complex Horror in SF environment of the Cube removes the first of their number by acid, those remaining realize they must comprehend the Mathematical rules of the implied Godgame to get out alive.

Each character is named after a Prison and each seems to have a reason for being there: police officer Quentin (Dean Wint) uses violence to establish leadership over the group; mathematics student Leaven (De Boer) extrapolates meaning from the numbers inscribed into each cell; Holloway (Guadagni) is a psychologist and conspiracy theorist; Worth (Hewlett) was involved in the design of the Cube's outer shell; and Kazan (Miller) is an autistic savant who can factorize very large integers in his head – the latter ability proving the only reliable means of negotiating the Cube's array of deadly mechanisms.

The Cube is 26 rooms across, bringing to mind the Labyrinth of hexagonal rooms from Jorge Luis Borges's The Library of Babel (in El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, coll 1942; trans 1962) in which books combine 25 basic characters – 22 letters, the full stop, the comma, and the space – in every possible permutation, a theme first suggested by Kurd Laßwitz and later reused to popular effect by authors including Isaac Asimov and Douglas Adams. Here though, numbers are the language of nature: the rules of the Cube only seem arbitrary and meaningless. The real enemy is the prisoners' lack of perspective.

Leaven guesses that the numbers in the cells indicate the Cartesian coordinates of the rooms but fails to account for the rooms moving, a miscalculation that nearly kills Quentin. Personality clashes abound. The five characters – four following Quentin's surreptitious murder of Holloway – get to questioning the purpose of the Thought Experiment that contains them. As in Cube's urban-crawling antecedent Stalker (1979), the characters are aiming for a specific room, one which answers the existential senselessness of their predicament not with faith, or miracles, or the unknowability of the universe, but with precise numerical coordinates.

One of the characters is capable of overcoming his emotions for long enough to apply the necessary science – autistic Kazan, who walks alone into the bright white light of the film's final frame. Luigi Pirandello's play Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921; trans 1922) examined authorial concern through absurdism; Cube uses a similar set-up to illustrate the disparity between human narrative and mathematical truth. Cube won the award for Best Canadian First Feature Film at the 1997 Toronto International Film Festival and spawned both a sequel, Cube 2: Hypercube (2002) and a prequel, Cube Zero (2004), neither of which managed to relay the Kafkaesque allure of the first film. [MD]


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