Thinking Outside “The Box” Isn’t Enough; We Need to Destroy It

Andrew Greene
6 min readMay 21, 2024

You’re working hard and trying to provide for your family when Frank Langella delivers a mysterious box on your doorstep.

Inside the box is a button. If you press this button within 24 hours you will receive $1 million dollars, no questions asked, no strings attached. Well, except for one little thing — when you push the button someone out there in the world you don’t know dies.

…Do you press the button?

James Marsden and Cameron Diaz, the couple who receive the box in this 2009 film, press the button because they can no longer afford their son’s private school. And because there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise.

Of course, if we weren’t in a society that makes us push this button countless times every day, there’d be no reason for Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) to make this movie either. But we do and he did.

I hope we’d all abstain from pushing the button if presented with this exact moral dilemma. Even calling it a dilemma feels like an affront to ‘morals,’ but considering that we live in a world that presently prioritizes money over PEOPLE, or at least certain people, it’s clearly a dilemma we haven’t been able to solve, to escape.

While the movie is needlessly convoluted beyond this premise, the metaphor is clear. The Box represents capitalism! We in the Western world continue to press the button, continue to make those in the Global South suffer merely by going about our normal day to day.

Until recently, until social media, many of us did not see those who suffer because of our participation in this society. We did not know, we did not care to know that modern day slavery involving Congolese children mining cobalt is what provides us the chips in our phones and the batteries in our electric cars. We do now, though.

Yet still we remain trapped in this box, playing this game. We can’t do anything, we say. We don’t have the power. Free next-day shipping is so nice. Besides, it’s not our fault; this is just how things are. We can’t quit our jobs, Jimmy can’t go to public school, we can’t lose health insurance, we can’t starve. Are you suggesting I endanger my kids, you monster?!

But there are kids starving, kids dying right now and there has been for, well, ever, whose only crime is being born somewhere else.

Capitalism is a competition and we are all competing against each other, fighting to climb the ladder, break ceilings, go viral, get rich. There’s no such thing as equality or fairness in this game. There’s no such thing as Enough either. Capitalism is a black hole, always hungry, always expanding, swallowing more and more of the Earth and its wondrous species.

As the depths of corruption reveals itself, as we discover there is no bottom to the greed and depravity of the United States, Israel, Britain, you name the colonizer, those that have remained silent, that haven’t changed their minds or actions are in denial. Their house, or houses, their career, their contacts and contracts, sponsors, Jimmy’s scholarship, their comfort, their safety, their peace of mind… none of it matters unless everybody has access to those things.

These are all carrots, all rewards for pressing the button, that not only come at a price some unseen Other has to pay, but a price our souls can’t possibly pay.

It’s not just the rich and privileged who climb and fight their way up the social ladder. We’re all participating, all guilty, all victims. Our way of life is dependent upon this hierarchical organization. There’s not just one box, but an infinite string of them, a nesting doll of subjugation consecrated by an imagined difference between Us and Them.

“I’m not literally shooting someone in Congo or Sudan or Palestine, so why don’t you shut the fuck up and do something about it?”

I write to you as someone who won the genetic lottery, as someone who would be on the streets without help from family and friends, as someone who has struggled with all sorts of coping mechanisms rather than sitting with my own discomfort, as someone who might’ve given up trying to be different a long time ago without financial support. I write to you as someone who has pressed the button. As someone who has tried and failed to run from The Box their entire life without quite knowing what they were running from. Until recently.

Time is running out. Do we keep pressing the button?

Do we care about each other, really? Do we care about every one of us, borders be damned, or do we just want to “win” or at least, not lose? Do we want to change or do we just want to get rich enough so we’re part of the club who don’t have to change?

The American Dream is that anyone — even those we discriminate against! — can rise to the top of the mountain if they work hard enough (or have enough privilege, talent, luck or moral compromise). This is a powerful myth. So many people HAVE worked endlessly hard to reach where they have reached. Others have not. The majority are in between, lost, flailing, stressed, trying to stay afloat. Desperate for a button to push that will keep them from drowning, unable to reckon with the soul loss that accompanies that choice.

Do we keep living in Denial? Do we keep attacking and critiquing those who disrupt the status quo, who seek liberation, to abolish this fucked up game? Do we have faith that we all could come up with something better… than this shit?

I do. Before you call me naive, it’s not naive to believe in something better, something different. It’s naive to believe that this game, this country, this Western imperialist capitalist regime and the 1% reaping its benefits will magically change on their own.

You or I alone don’t have the power to destroy The Box. In the same way that we on an individual level can’t prevent climate change or stop the genocides happening the world over. But we can stop blaming each other. We can stop living in denial about what’s happening and where we’re headed. Nothing changes if we don’t acknowledge that this system isn’t broken and in need of fixing. The system is serving exactly who it’s supposed to serve; we need a new one. We can stop pretending that the individual issues we care about aren’t all connected. We can stop playing this game and come together to destroy the box and build something kinder.

As Frank Langella says: “If human beings are unable or unwilling to sacrifice individual desires for the greater good of your species, you will have no chance for survival.”

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Andrew Greene

Writer, director. Creator of The Naked Man Podcast. Human sampler tray following breadcrumbs, forever hungry. @WanderingGreene on IG, Letterboxd & Twitter