Directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali, “Cube” (1997) is a Canadian horror-thriller that plays out like a claustrophobic, mathematical nightmare. It is almost Kafkaesque in its setting – a mysterious and intriguing bunch of cube-shaped rooms with hatches on each wall, i.e., a large cube. There is no distinct sense of passing time; you don’t know whether the larger context of the film is dystopian or not.

Made on a shoestring budget, “Cube” (1997) has garnered a distinct cult following in contemporary culture because of its inherent themes of identity, faith, and the human condition condensed so carefully in the screenplay. Don’t worry. In this article, let’s try to unpack the film to understand how the various elements come together mathematically and philosophically and to answer the big question—who survives the Cube?

Cube (1997) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Right at the start of the film, we see a man named Alderson waking up in a brightly lit, cube-shaped room with no memory of how he got there. He explores the room and discovers that each wall of the room has a small hatch leading to another identical cube-shaped room. As he tries to make his way to the next room, he accidentally activates a sensor and is instantly killed by a trap – a sharp string tearing across his body, chopping it into pieces.

Immediately after, we see a group of five strangers waking up in a similar cube-shaped room. These include (and let’s list them below to keep us from getting confused):

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  1. Rennes (played by Wayne), who is a famous escape artist
  2. Quentin McNeil (played by Maurice Dean Wint), a police officer
  3. Joan Leaven (played by Nicole de Boer), a young mathematics student
  4. Dr. Helen Holloway (played by Nicky Guadagni), a doctor
  5. David Worth (played by David Hewlett), one who is discovered to be the designer of the Cube’s outer cast

NOTE: Interestingly, I read somewhere that all these characters are named after famous prisons, which may mean that their presence inside the cube is, after all, very carefully planned by someone or something. For example, Holloway is named after a UK woman’s prison, while Quentin is directly derived from San Quentin. Further, it ties in quite nicely with Quentin’s point of them being the playthings of someone’s sick entertainment in the later half of the film.

Cube (1997) Movie Ending Explained
A still from “Cube” (1997)

Each of these five protagonists seems completely confused by how they got inside the cube and how they may have been chosen for this peculiar task (?)/ experiment (?)/ punishment (?). At best, they figure that their selection must have been made at random. Rennes, however, thinks that this is some kind of morbid joke. He soon discovers that each of the rooms is laden with deadly traps activated perhaps by motion sensors.

While his boot-throwing experiment is successful at first, he is soon burned to death by acid when he tries to jump into one of the adjoining rooms. This leaves the remaining four protagonists scared. Although Leaven speculates on the presence of prime numbers, they don’t arrive at any conclusion. Soon, the group discovers Kazan (played by Andrew Miller), who is an autistic savant and adept at mental calculation. Dr Holloway insists that they tag along Kazan with them as they seek an escape from these walls.

Quentin badly injures his leg while trying to navigate a room that Leaven had hypothesized to be safe, spiking tensions further. This is when Worth reveals that he was hired to design the cube’s outer shell and goes on to suggest that a lawless bureaucratic system may be the mastermind behind the Cube after all. More information about the Cube’s dimensions comes to the limelight, leaving them with the knowledge that there possibly are 26 rooms in each row of the cube, leading to a whooping number of 17,576 rooms in total inside the whole cube. Plus, there is likely to be a small bridge that connects one of the rooms to the outer shell – their path of escape. However, Leaden’s mathematical reasoning fails them, and they soon go back to square one.

Soon, they come across a sound-activated trap in one of the rooms, almost leading to Quentin’s death. Quentin initially emerged as a leader, but his authoritarian tendencies clash with Leaven’s more rational and empathetic approach right from the start. As tensions rise, Quentin starts to become increasingly paranoid and violent. Eventually, they reach the outer edge of the cube, where they discover an exit hatch. Dr. Holloway falls to her death after a mishap, and after some brief struggle, they realize that they are back in the room where Rennes had died. Leaven and Kazan team up to use math again to ultimately reach the group’s edge.

However, Quentin reveals that he knew about the exit all along but chose not to tell the others, believing that they would be unable to escape without his leadership. A confrontation ensues, during which Quentin is killed by traps, and Leaven and Worth manage to escape through the hatch but ultimately die. As Kazan exits the cube, a ray of bright light engulfs him, leaving the ending of the film ambiguous.

Is Cube (1997) worth watching?

“Cube” (1997) is a Canadian horror thriller, and you should definitely give it a try. The film takes some time to grow on you since the audience is as clueless about the cube’s entrappings as the protagonists. But if you can sit through the first few minutes of “Cube” (1997), you are likely to be left hooked to your seat in horror and anticipation, not to mention the increasing sense of monotony and claustrophobia that sets in. You can revisit the film as a commentary on capitalism and the crisis of human faith in the post-modernist world. In fact, if you are intrigued by the film enough, you can follow it up with two other films – “Cube 2: Hypercube” (2002) and “Cube Zero” (2004) – that succeed “Cube” (1997).

What was the point of the Cube (1997) movie?

Cube (1997) Movie Ending Explained
Another still from “Cube” (1997)

While the film ends on an ambiguous note, it is necessary to understand that the film holds a lesson or two about the human condition at its core. They are:

  1. Human beings, like Sisyphus, are constantly trying to arrive at something via actions; they are incapable of basking in a moment of leisure. This attitude is perhaps a direct effect of capitalism, hinting at the use of human beings as lab rats running on a spinning wheel inside this cube as some form of morbid experimentation.
  2. Human beings are selfish and suspicious creatures, laden with mysteries that govern their attitudes towards others. They are equally dangerous for each other as the elaborate trap they have been caged in. Their faithlessness at the lack of an external force responsible for their condition is reflective of a uniquely postmodern anxiety.

Who survives Cube in the end?

Kazan is the most obvious survivor in the “Cube” (1997). He emerges from the cube and goes into the light in the final scenes of the movie. However, David Worth is gravely injured but lacks the interest or life force to get back to his unhappy life. Everyone else dies by the time they reach the finishing line, following a string of ghastly, unnatural deaths.

Who is the villain in Cube (1997)?

One could say that Quentin is the real antagonist in “Cube” (1997). However, villainy is no less complex than the geometry of a cube. Among the characters and Kazan, who find themselves trapped in the cube, Quentin IS revealed to be the person who knew the exit route all along but never disclosed it. Paranoid and violent, he is the one responsible for multiple deaths, assault, and the confusion all along. However, it is easy to point the finger at Quentin because there is NO mention of a larger villain/force that has led to the capture of these individuals inside the cube. The looming absence of the same is sinister. Although Worth suggests that they may be trapped by a bureaucratic system, we never learn about the greater evil at play here.

Cube (1997) Movie Ending Explained:

Soon after Dr. Holloway’s death, it is evident that Quentin is enraged. He also tries to assault Leaven, but the encounter only pushes all of them into a room, which they quickly realize is the same room as the one in which Rennes had died. This means that they are literally back to one of the first cube-shaped rooms they had passed by. However, because of the change in the position of Rennes’ dead body to the edge of the maze, Leaven – utilizing Kazan’s talent for factorization – successfully deciphers the Cube’s pattern. She guides the group to the elusive bridge. Just as they reach it, the bridge starts to recede toward the exit. Hastily, they enter the dark red chamber known as the “exit cube” and open the hatch to the outside, greeted only by blinding white light.

Overwhelmed by despair, Worth collapses, voicing his belief that there’s nothing awaiting him beyond the Cube’s confines. Despite Leaven’s efforts to console him, her words barely register before Quentin, now drenched in blood, ambushes them. In a frantic struggle, Quentin targets Worth, who urges Kazan to flee. Kazan, in a panic, scrambles through the hatch just as Quentin attempts to follow. With his final ounce of strength, Worth seizes Quentin’s leg, halting his escape. Tragically, as the Cube shifts away from the exit, Quentin is torn in two, leaving Worth sprawled beside Leaven’s lifeless form, likely succumbing to his injuries.

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Kazan, the lone survivor, emerges into a brief corridor, one end radiating an intense white glow. The film concludes with Kazan venturing into the light, leaving viewers to ponder the Cube’s enigmatic purpose and what lies beyond its confines.

Read More: 15 Best Netflix Original Horror Movies

Trailer:

Cube (1997) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of Cube (1997) Movie: Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Maurice Dean Wint
Cube (1997) Movie Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama/Mystery & Thriller | Runtime: 1h 30m
Where to watch Cube

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