computer circuit

Cube (film)

Cube is a 1997 Canadian psychological thriller/horror/science fiction movie directed by Vincenzo Natali. The film was a very successful product of the Canadian Film Centre's First Feature Project. Despite its low budget, the film achieved moderate commercial success and has acquired cult status as a niche science-fiction title.

Plot summary

Much of the film's appeal lies in its surreal, Kafkaesque settings — no extensive attempt is made to explain what the cube in which the characters are confined is, why it is created, or how the "inmates" were selected. Although the world "outside" is referred to, it is presented in an extremely abstract fashion - either a dark void or a bright white light. Its appeal is also its complex mathematics, which is valid save for minor plot holes.

The film opens with a man named Alderson waking up in a strange, cube-shaped room with glowing, computer circuit-like walls and six doors, one at the center of each wall, including the ceiling and floor. After recovering from his confusion, he opens two of the doors and looks into them to find rooms that differ to the one he is in only by color. He then opens and goes through a third door. He looks around and then takes a step, but is suddenly cut into large cubes. He falls apart and the rack of crosshatched wires which diced him moves into view. It folds up and retracts.

In another room, several people find each other: Quentin the cop, Worth the office worker, Holloway the doctor, Rennes the escape artist, and Leaven the college student. None of them know where they are, how they got there, or why they are there. Quentin, however, knows that there are traps, as he had looked into a room and nearly got his head cut off. The five decide to stay together and look for the way out. Rennes, who had escaped from at least seven prisons, takes the lead. He shows them how to test for traps by tossing a boot into the rooms while holding onto the laces, to trigger potential traps, figuring that the trapped room contain motion detectors. At one point he throws the boot in and comes with nothing, but figures out from smell that there are sensors rigged to detect the chemicals that come off skin. Not long later, Rennes jumps into a room tested with a boot, and is sprayed in the face with acid. The others pull him back, but he dies as the acid corrodes his face and the inside of his head. The group deduces that the floor must have pressure or thermal sensors, and decide that they need a better way to test for traps.

Quentin asks everyone about their occupations. He is a cop, Holloway is a free clinic doctor, and Worth works "in an office building, doing office building stuff". Leaven claims to do nothing but "hang out" with her friends. Quentin believes that nothing is a coincidence, that each of them has a purpose in the cube. He asks why Leaven has her glasses, while Holloway has had her jewellery taken away. Leaven reveals herself to excel at mathematics, and recalls that each room had a set of numbers engraved in the crawlspace between the doors. She theorizes that when one of those numbers is prime, the room is trapped.

Leaven's purpose becomes attempting to "crack the cube's code", and they progress through the cubes. When they find themselves in a room with trapped rooms all around and below, Quentin checks the door in the ceiling, through which falls a seventh person: Kazan. He appears to be mentally handicapped. At least two of the others see him as a burden, but Holloway decides to bring him along.

The group starts speculating about their surroundings, which leads to a conflict between Quentin and Holloway. Quentin dismisses Holloway's ideas as conspiracy theories, and Holloway thinks that Quentin is naive. They also fight over Holloway's sympathy for Kazan, whom she believes to be autistic, as Quentin is angered by him and wants to leave him behind.

Quentin enters a cube without prime numbers and narrowly avoids death. Leaven's theory that non-prime-numbered rooms are safe is shown to be incorrect, and the group rests. Worth and Quentin get into a fight, and it is revealed that Worth is one of the architects who designed the massive cube-shaped shell which contains the cube-shaped rooms. Although the others begin to distrust Worth, he is able to give them information about the dimensions of the outer cube: it is 434 feet on each side. Leaven then realizes that the numbers between the cubes represent encoded Cartesian coordinates, which show the starting location of the rooms. With this information, she can now guess at the size of the maze. She paces 14 feet, and deduces that the maze could be at most, 26 cubes by 26 cubes by 26 cubes, or 17,576 rooms. (Although not stated in the film, her calculations seem to be based on the correct assumption that the outer dimensions of the rooms are one and a half feet longer than their inner dimensions, so that each room measures 15.5 feet on an external side. One could calculate the external dimensions from the length of tunnels between rooms.) Using the encoded coordinates, Leaven claims to be able to navigate the maze, but could not do so without knowing what to use as the origin (0,0,0), and also without knowing that the rooms are moving which they discover later, or how fast the rooms are moving around (Leaven estimates this later).

As they make their way there, hunger and dehydration take hold. Each person becomes on edge and paranoid. Quentin is gradually driven mad by his conflicts with Worth and Holloway, and his annoyance with Kazan. He begins to seem cold and malicious. The group reaches a room near one face of the cube, but it is trapped with spears that come out of the walls when activated by sounds other than those of the doors opening and closing. Quentin refuses to backtrack, insisting that they can pass through this room if they are very quiet. He tries to leave Kazan behind, but Holloway and Worth get Kazan to cover his mouth and follow. As the last person, Quentin, is passing through, Kazan makes a sound. Quentin is nearly killed and is extremely angered, calling Kazan "a fucking fuck." Everyone begins to argue.

The group finally reaches the last room in that direction, but discovers that there is a gap between the door and the outer shell. They fashion a rope from their clothes, and Holloway volunteers to swing out on the rope to investigate. As she is suspended outside the room, the cube shakes and Holloway nearly falls. Quentin catches her, but then lets her fall to her death. He tells the others that she slipped.

As they sleep, Quentin carries Leaven into another room. He tells her that they will "be going to the bottom. It will be quiet there". As he tries to convince Leaven to abandon the others, he also makes sexual advances at her. Worth and Kazan wake up to save Leaven. Quentin says that he did not trust Holloway, and the group guesses that Holloway's death was not an accident. Enraged, Quentin throws Worth through a door in the floor. Worth begins to laugh hysterically at what he sees in that room: Rennes's corpse. They think that they have been going in circles, but then Worth notices that the "acid room" which killed Rennes is no longer adjacent to that room. He and Leaven realize that the rooms change locations by moving inside and outside the cube (a full cube of 26x26x26 rooms could not not shift without moving a room outside of the cube).

Leaven deduces that the sets of numbers connected to a room represent something other than its traps and initial location: permutations obtained by subtracting the digits that are claimed to be able to tell them how the rooms are moving. After some calculation, Leaven discovers that a room they have been in would be between the cubed rooms and the outer cube - a bridge to the outside world. If they had stayed in the room they started in, they would have eventually been linked to the bridge cube and thus the exit (though this means that they may not have found Kazan). Leaven also discovers that the trapped rooms are rooms in which any of the number of prime factors of the marked numbers is not a prime power. The prisoners then face the task of performing prime factorizations of three-digit numbers – a task Leaven claims that she requires a computer for to do quickly. Fortunately, Kazan appears to be an autistic savant and performs the factorizations easily. He utters the number of distinct prime factors each number has, as the room numbers are read to him.

They make their way towards the exit safely with Kazan's help. Worth devises a plan to incapacitate Quentin, who has gone completely mad. Leaven, Worth, and Kazan fight Quentin into a room below them and leave him to die. They proceed and reach the bridge cube. When they open its door, bright light pours into the room. Worth announces that he will not go, as there is nothing for him in the world outside. As he and Leaven share a moment, Quentin appears having somehow managed to catch up with the trio, and kills Leaven by stabbing her with a door handle he somehow broke off a door. He stabs Worth as well, and grabs Kazan, who is climbing out. Worth grabs Quentin's leg with the last of his strength, and Quentin is crushed in the crawlspace between the cubes when the cubes realign. Having saved Kazan, Worth lies down next to Leaven and dies.

In the final shot, Kazan is seen walking slowly into a bright light, outside which is only explained in Cube Zero

Power struggles and character development

The director and writers state (in the DVD Commentary) that each character in the film was designed to play through a certain arc of character development. This is presented through the plot twists, changes in party leader, and who the audience hopes will escape.


Quentin is the character who thrusts himself into the position of leader and appears to be the main character when the group first assembles. He claims to be a cop and is strong and level headed. He takes on most of the dangerous tasks and claims to look for "practical solutions". However, it is soon revealed (mainly through Quentin's confrontation with Worth in the Red Room) that he is violent, cruel - especially to Worth - and slightly unhinged, with a possible "thing for young girls". As the film progresses, he tries to take control of Leaven for her mathematical abilities, and becomes a villain. He is responsible for tearing the group apart, and is himself literally torn apart at the end.


Dr Helen Holloway is the elder woman of the group and a free clinic doctor. She is shown at the start to be bitter, paranoid, and melodramatic. She spouts conspiracy theories and believes that the U.S Government is responsible for the Cube. She becomes more human, however, and tends to Quentin's wounds. She looks after Kazan with patience and gentleness. She shows that she can be calm when necessary, when she explains to Quentin why they need Worth. She attempts to connect with Worth before Quentin kills her. In the film, she changes from being the most unstable member of the group to being the calm opposition to Quentin.


Joan Leaven begins the film as a damsel in distress. Rather than exploring her surroundings, she screams for help until she attracts Quentin, Holloway and Worth. She is the only member of the group to have personal belongings (her glasses). She is modest in claiming she's nothing special, because she has expert mathematical skills (especially on little sleep) for her level of education which aid the group (much of the math in cube baffles even college students). She prompts Worth to keep going, and is invaluable to the group for much of the film. She is killed by Quentin while trying to escape the cube.


David Worth's transformation begins with him lying on the ground, looking injured and grim. He maintains a doomed outlook throughout the first part of the film, and mocks Quentin's attempts at escape. He is asked why he even follows the others, when he claims to have no reason to live. He does not contribute much to the group, but sometimes leads Kazan and "boots" rooms (throwing boots into them to test for traps). When the group reaches the Red Room, Quentin confronts Worth. It becomes known that Worth worked on the design of the outer shell or cube. He claims not to know about the purpose, construction, or traps of the rooms, but knows that people were being put in for a few months. Quentin reacts in anger to Worth's story, and Worth gives a long, lucid speech about the futility of leadership: "The cube's a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan. Can you grasp that, Holloway? Big Brother is not watching you." Quentin says that his function in the group is "The Poison", another obstacle for them to overcome, with no function but the cause of conflict. However, he later becomes the replacement hero. He continues to fight Quentin, and eventually tries to disable him. He is beaten by Quentin but luckily avoids being killed by traps in the rooms that Quentin throws him into. He rescues Kazan and Leaven at different points in the film. At the end, he decides that he has nothing to live for and chooses to die by the exit. When Leaven asks him what is out there, he answers: "Boundless human stupidity". He is then stabbed in the stomach by Quentin, but manages to both kill Quentin and aid in Kazan's escape. He then crawls over to Leaven's corpse and passes away.


Rennes, also known as "The Wren", first appears to the group as the most knowledgeable of their surroundings, and the reluctant leader. He is an escape artist who "flew the coop" from seven major prisons, and comes up with the method of using boots to test for traps. He has a facial tic or spasm, but seems physically fit for an older man. He detects a trap that the boot does not, and uses it to urge the others to "concentrate on what's in front of you". Despite his calm skillfulness and experience, he is killed by a trap. He changes from a specialist and central character to an early victim.


Kazan is introduced as the autistic man who seems only to be dead weight. He is immediately distrusted by Quentin and Leaven, who believe that he may be put into the cubes to slow them down or kill them off. He later becomes a pivotal part of their escape, as the only person who can perform the calculations needed for the group to move safely. In the end, he is the only prisoner who makes it out of the Cube alive.

There is speculation that Kazan and Eric Wynn (from Cube Zero) are the same person. Eric was lobotomized at the end of the film and put back into the Cube behaving and speaking in the same way as Kazan. Eric was a child prodigy, able to recognize and solve patterns with ease; at one point, he tells the others to read the codes at the doors to him so he can tell them the correct route, like how Kazan helps his group. The director's commentary for Cube Zero states: "Maybe this is Kazan or how Kazan came to be, making this much more of a prequel than a sequel."


Alderson appears at the opening of the film (and on the DVD packaging) but does not meet the others. He is killed within minutes, but is first made to appear to be a main character. The fact that the actor who played him was fitted with a headpiece to look as if he has a shaven head, and that the group lacks a moral or spiritual authority, have led to the notion that Alderson was a Buddhist or Catholic monk. Due to his lack of contact with the other characters, Alderson might have been part of another group placed in the cube earlier, as Worth mentioned that he knew people were being put in the cube for a few months. (This theory does not fit with Cube Zero, in which it is revealed that the cube is "swept" periodically. However, the two films were written by different people, and the sweep might not apply to Cube.)

Character Names

All the characters are named after prisons. Quentin is named after San Quentin State Prison in California, Holloway after the Holloway Prison in London, Kazan after the prison in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia. Rennes is named after a prison in Rennes, Britanny, France, Alderson after the prison in Alderson, West Virginia, and Leaven and Worth after the prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

The characters themselves reflect the prisons in their traits. Kazan (the autistic man) is a disorganized prison. Rennes (the "mentor") pioneered many of today's prison policies. Quentin (the policeman) is known for brutality. Holloway is a women's prison. Alderson is a prison where isolation is a common punishment. Leavenworth runs on a rigid set of rules (Leaven's mathematics), and the new prison is corporately owned and built (Worth, hired as an architect).

Most character's first names are either not given or not revealed until later in the film.


The various traps in the Cube:

  • The mesh trap - A hallmark trap of the Cube series as the first to be shown in the first movie, with a brief appearance in Cube Zero prequel. It is a rack of razor-sharp wire which unfurls and falls from the ceiling onto the victim who walks into the room. It slices the victim's body into cube-shaped chunks, which then fall apart. The wire rack then folds up, and returns to its original position. Alderson is killed at the beginning of the film by this trap.
  • Flamethrower - A simple trap, this is simply a flame thrower that comes out of the walls and shoots fire when a victim is detected in the room. This trap can be detected by throwing a boot into the room to set off the motion sensors. The phrase "Boot it!" is used primarily by Quentin as a command to the others to test a room.
  • Acid sprayer - A small hole in the wall opens to spray a strong acid into a victim's face, quickly dissolving it and killing the person. Unlike the flamethrower, this trap is not detectable by boot and appears to be activated by the chemical detector. Rennes is killed by this trap.
  • Spear trap - This trap is sound activated (though built to ignore the noisy opening of cube doors). Metal spears extend out of the walls and across the room to skewer those within. The characters are still able to pass through a room with this trap by being silent and careful. Production designs in the DVD special features show that the spikes are constructed so that they retract into a coil, thus explaining how such long spikes can fit in the walls.
  • The wire twist trap - Lines of razorwire extend from ceiling to floor, to form a round cage around a target. They twist inwards like a spiral to cut the victim into pieces, much like the swinging dicer trap. Quentin gets caught in this trap but rolls away before it closes completely. It is dubbed the "Sushi Trap" or "Sushi Machine" by Quentin.
  • Unknown trap - Little is known about this trap. Rennes discovers it before entering, due to the dryness of the air in the room. It reacts to the hydrogen sulfide gas emitted by the occupant. This trap shows that there are several types of sensors used throughout the cube that are immune to the boot test.
  • Cube transitions - The movement of the cubes themselves could also be considered a trap. Anyone who is in the crawlspace between the cubes during the shuffle is torn in half as the rooms move apart. Quentin is killed by this "trap".

Mathematics in Cube

The mathematics in Cube has intrigued and baffled many. Natali hired a professor to help with the math and it is valid except for a couple of plot holes. Each room is marked by a nine-digit number, or three 3-digit numbers. Leaven discovers that the Cartesian coordinates of the original position of each room inside the cube are obtained by adding the digits of each number. So a room marked "123 456 789" is located at x=1+2+3, y=4+5+6, z=7+8+9, or [6,15,24], and figures the rooms are moving around by moving close to each other, allowing the small space in between the cubes to add up and create enough space for the cubes to move around. This could easily be possible with anti-gravity, but is difficult (but perhaps possible) to fathom otherwise since we are never shown any kind of engineering that would shift around the cubes.

She also theorizes that the trapped rooms are the rooms in which at least one of these numbers is a prime number, and then later revises this to the theory that the trapped rooms are the rooms where the number of prime factors of any of the three coordinates are not a prime power. For instance, the first trapped room they encounter since discovering this is one where the number of prime factors of one of the marked numbers is one, while any room where the number of prime factors of the marked numbers consist of 2, 3, 4, or 5, or any prime power, are safe. This is also why the first theory worked for them up to a point, because a room with a prime number does mark a trapped room, because the number of prime factors of a prime is one, which is not a prime power, but it is not the only thing which marks the room. The number of prime factors could be any other non-prime-power number.

This may all be possible, but this is not enough to allow them to navigate. Leaven has no way to know which of the eight corners is the origin, the co-ordinate [1,1,1] (it could not be 0,0,0 because the maximum co-ordinate is 26, where it would be 25 if the origin were 0,0,0 because that would count as a room). In addition, she could not navigate to begin with because they later find the rooms are moving around which they did not know at start. Later, they claim to know what pattern they are moving in based on subtracting the digits rather than adding, and Leaven estimates how fast the rooms are moving based on having heard the cubes shift.

There is also one "bridge", a 17,577th room which begins outside the cube and moves its way through it, which they finally reach but again could not do so without knowing the origin. Kazaan finally enters it, which leads him to whatever lies outside. It is only explained later in Cube Zero what lies outside.

Production details

The movie was shot on a Toronto soundstage. Only one "cube", measuring 14 by 14 by 14 feet, was built. The colour of the room was changed by sliding panels. Since this task was a time-consuming procedure, the movie was not shot in sequence; all shots taking place in rooms of a specific colour were shot one at a time.

Another partial "cube" was made for shots from a different room.

There was only one working door which could support the weight of the actors.

It was intended that there would be six different colours of rooms to match the recurring theme of six throughout the movie - five sets of gel panels plus pure white. However, the budget did not stretch to the sixth gel panel and so there are only five different colours of room in the movie.


Cube is followed by the sequel Cube 2: Hypercube (2002) and the prequel Cube Zero (2004).

a conceptual prequel from 1969 is "The Cube" written and directed by Jim Henson



  • During Alderson's falling to pieces, you can see what looks like the letters "ED" in the middle slice of his torso.
  • Leaven claims that it's impossible for a human being to compute the factors of a 3 digit number because it would be "astronomical". This is highly incorrect. There are numerous tricks and methods for factoring numbers that would make the job fairly quick.
  • Quentin states Rennes escaped from six prisons (before being quickly corrected), this further hints at the connection between the characters' names and six major prisons
  • As Leaven discovers trapped rooms are marked with prime numbers, she uses the same amount of time figuring out that 645 and 372 are not prime as she does figuring out that 649 is not a prime. This makes no sense as numbers ending in 5 or an even number are not primes (except for 2 and 5), as they are divisible by 5 or 2.
  • There are no three-digit prime powers numbers that add up to have a Cartesian coordinates of 1, 6, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 26.
  • There are 192 numbers that are prime powers between 001 and 999.
  • If the numbers for the cubes are randomly distributed, there would be a 52.76% chance that one of the three digit numbers will contain a prime power, and hence contain a trap.

See also

External links

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