The Cube: A Nightmare Recovered

Deep within my earliest childhood memories I have the indelible image of a vague and frightening setting: a featureless room with no doors or windows— floor, walls, and ceiling the same gleaming white grid. In the room a man sits alone with no memory of his arrival, wishing to be anywhere else. People appear and talk with him, teasing him with ideas of freedom, toying with his mind. His memory uncertain, his reality unstable, he doubts everything and wonders whether he can even hold on to his sense of self.

This nightmare is kindred to the fever delirium I experienced a few times as a child— a kind of temporary insanity where 320 BPM explosions pound in the silence of my room and my bed sheets feel like corrugated metal under my touch. It isn’t real, I tell myself. It will pass. But the memory lives, patiently waiting for me to revisit my menagerie of childhood nightmares— like the white room.

Fast forward to two years ago. I am 38 years old. I have long had a taste for existential plays like Brazil, Groundhog Day, and The Truman Show — stories that confront one with questions about the nature of existence and the meaning of one’s life. In my web surfing I come across references to a B-movie I had never seen simply called Cube, about a group of people inexplicably trapped in a three-dimensional maze fraught with deathtraps. Interesting, I think… sounds a lot like my childhood nightmare. But it’s far too new for me to have seen it back then, and my nightmare was terrifying, but not violent. I see they even made a couple sequels: Cube2: Hypercube and Cube Zero. They certainly don’t look like “must see” classics. Perhaps someday I’ll check them out.

Fast forward to yesterday. I am 40 years old. On a whim I decide to see what Wikipedia has to say about that movie I heard of a couple years ago. I type the article name into the search box, but get it slightly wrong:

The Cube.

Wait a minute— this isn’t the movie I saw referenced before… it’s much older: made for television in 1969. I would have been four years old when it aired. There aren’t any deathtraps, just a man in a white room with no way out…

Hear that sound? That’s my mind blowing.

The shock of familiarity is overwhelming. Is this the source of my childhood nightmare? It sounds like it, but is there some way I can watch it to be sure? It turns out I can. There are people out there trying to save movies and television shows of the 60s and 70s from the dustbin of history. It turns out there is even a Yahoo Group devoted solely to the history and discussion of The Cube. And there is a BitTorrent stream where it can be downloaded in its entirety. (I recommend VLC player for viewing.)

Though the details had been lost in my memory, I am left with no doubt by my fresh viewing: this is my nightmare, down to the despairing ending.

And the evil, twisted genius of a filmmaker responsible for infecting me with this honored member of my childhood menagerie?

Jim Henson.

The magic smoke pours from what little mind I have left.

Jim’s work has long been an inspiration to me, including Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movies, Fraggle Rock, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and other works too numerous to mention. His untimely death in 1990 was a personally-felt tragedy. And I have since had the honor of working on a project directly with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop where I contributed to a re-design of their animatronics system.

I don’t consider knowledge of something complete until you have experienced its dark side. Finally seeing The Cube as an adult has been a dark homecoming for me. It stands as a portent of the imagination and energy that would later become such a treasured part of my childhood and beyond.

Thanks again, Jim.

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