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|Written by Frederick Hidell|
|Wednesday, 27 May 2009 19:00|
Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison founded the Canadian Film Centre in 1988. Originally focused strictly on film training, over the last 20 years the CFC has expanded to become Canada’s largest institution for advanced training in film, television and new media. Under the CFC’s Feature Film Project program, the centre functions as Executive Producer, providing 100% of the financing and mentorship needed to develop, produce, and market Canadian dramatic feature films. One of the program’s most successful and well known products is director
Released in 1997, Cube is a sci-fi thriller about seven individuals abducted from their everyday lives and deposited in a cube-shaped room. Each side of the room has a door leading to another room. As the characters navigate the maze of doorways they discover that, while the rooms appear virtually identical, some are rigged with deadly traps. Think Saw II mixed with a hefty dose of Kafka’s The Trial – but while the Saw sequel provides visceral thrills, Cube plays as social commentary, criticizing bureaucracy’s dehumanizing ethos.
The cube itself is a complete mystery at first, but as the narrative unfolds, Worth – one of the characters trapped in the cube who earlier in the film described himself as an office worker – reveals that he was hired as a contractor to design of the exterior shell of the cube. When the others question him as to who hired him, Worth replies, “I didn't ask. I never even left my office. I talked on the phone to some other guys like me. Specialists working on small details. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody cared.”
Another character immediately launches into a conspiracy theory, identifying the usual suspects including the Pentagon and the police, noting (in a wonderfully Canadian moment), “You build a widget in
It’s all pretty typical sci-fi fair up until this point, but Worth’s response changes everything. He explains, “There's no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It's a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan. Can you grasp that? Big Brother is not watching you.”
This is as much of an explanation as the audience is ever given as to who made the cube and why it exists, and it is an explanation more terrifying than any conspiracy theory because it implies that the horrors of the cube are a product of bureaucracy’s ability to function with minimal human influence.
Upon seeing the film for the first time, I thought this explanation was a brilliant science-fiction concept, heavy on the fiction. It was only upon entering the work force that I discovered the sort of illogical-logic used in the film to justify the cube’s existence is pervasive within the operations of group structures like governments and corporations.
I used to work for the government before I retired to the Gatineau hills, and the documents I drafted as a public servant generally moved through eight levels of approval (manager, director, director general, assistant deputy minister, financial officer, quality control officer, deputy minister, and, finally, the minister) before being signed off. All eight levels usually made changes to the documents, though rarely anything major. It was just little tweaks here and there, “specialists working on small details.” The resulting product often looked nothing like what I had originally drafted. In fact, by the end of the approval process, I was essentially no longer the author of the piece.
But if I didn’t write it, who did?
The answer, of course, is that no one wrote it. Just like the cube built itself, the document wrote itself. It is the product of bureaucratic machinations devoid of any singular human intention.
The removal of singular intent, by the way, happens to make laying the blame when things go wrong extremely difficult. Who should be punished when there is no author and everyone has just contributed their own little part, nothing more? The films suggests these ‘headless blunders’ are able to function outside of the constraints society places on individuals, through laws and social principles because laws can’t be enforced when no one is in charge.
The cube becomes a symbol of the boxes we enclose ourselves in everyday from office buildings to the even more obvious analogy familiar to so many of us: the cubicle. Cube reminds us that no matter how hard we try to cut ourselves off from the rest of humanity, and no matter how hard we concentrate on our own lives, our actions affect the lives of others around us. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. The society we live in is a result the decisions we all make each and every day, and we cannot divorce ourselves from that fact. As the film suggests, the results can be catastrophic.