Five men. One box. This simple Academy Award winning short film by Wolfgang and Christoph Lauenstein from 1989 is a true masterpiece. In a strange world, five strange men discover the destruction greed can cause. And as the last man standing wins the object of interest in a battle of life and death, the object he was so determined to have for himself, he realises that it is merely that - an object.
The men - Voldemort's family?
These men are prisoners in their own world. Prisoners lacking individual personalities. Instead of names they have numbers. They are trapped in this cell without walls with just an empty void around them. 5 prisoners with a mysterious box. Wanting to inspect it for themselves, they take turns. But when it becomes apparent that the 'greedy one' out of them wants it for himself, the 'wise one' tries to push the box over the edge. Launching themselves into action, they fight over the box, one man down after the other. When all except one are gone, there's nothing in between the winner and his box. What he fails to grasp is that his fellow prisoners are what makes balance possible. So when they are all gone, and he is left with the object of his desire, he finally realises: The box is out of reach even though he is the last one standing. The balance disappeared the moment they turned on each other and nobody got the box in the end.
I must confess to being quite freaked out at first because of their strange appearance. Don't they kind of look like Voldemort? Makes the whole thing a little scary. But the world is a scary place and some humans, the decisions they choose to make and the consequences of those decisions can be scary too.
Sharing the box...
... was an option. But they wanted it for themselves. Their greed trumped their rational thoughts and all left was the force of destruction. What if there would have been a sixth prisoner, strong enough to play a kind of referee, ensuring that each one can enjoy the box? The whole situation would have become sustainable. They were just missing a player.
A key factor to notice when attempting to interpret the short film is the year it was made. 1989: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War coming to an end. The battle between communism and capitalism, the NATO and the soviet union, nearly over.
Communism is centred around historical materialism. Personally, I think that this strict reliance on materialism leads to the objectification of people and in general, the value of all humans. In consumer capitalism the focus lies on materialism and value is being reduced by its economics, leading to objectification again. It's like we are players in a game, controlled by someone capable of understanding a higher truth. The common defect is materialism and the emphasis/place it has in society.
Socialism vs. Capitalism
Once they found the box (parallel to wealth), the socialist era came to an end. Staying in the socialist era would have meant sharing the box in the middle of the platform. Balance would have been maintained. By entering capitalism, the world as they knew it lost its way. They lost their way. Everyone wanted the box for themselves. The transition started with the prisoner sitting on the box and sticking to it. The short film could be seen as a forewarning for what could happen if capitalism isn't ended.
Was the speaker of the box muffled?
It's like Charles Dickens illustrated in A Christmas Carol: Ignorance and want are the forces behind so many of the world's problems. What if the box was lying on the speaker face down? The prisoners remained ignorant of the speaker, letting their want/greed take over. What followed was a fight that could not be won. Because there was no real winner. This also is a parallel to the much disputed question "Who won the Cold War?".
The fishing pole
Anyone else notice that the last prisoner standing still has his fishing pole? He could have used it to pull the box into the middle or to fish out other objects to regain the balance. In this strange world, we don't even know if the others are dead or not. Could he have fished them back onto the platform again? However you want to see it, the fishing pole remains a symbol of hope: In a world which was destroyed, there's still an option to correct past mistakes. One just has to be willing to take a risk.
What do you think the main message of the short film was? Did you like it?