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We All Live in the ‘Cube’ Now: The Algorithmic Hell of Automated Dystopias

The Venn Diagram between a murderous Rubik’s Cube and the YouTube algorithm is a circle.
Cube Automated
Trimark Pictures
By  · Published on April 8th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that unpacks how the film Cube relates to the increasing presence of automated hells of our own making.

Released in 1997, Cube tells the story of a group of strangers who find themselves trapped within a maze-like prison constructed of ever-shifting cubes. While their mysterious enclosure attempts to kill them with all manner of deadly traps, the rag-tag gang is forced to pool their mental resources to attempt an escape. While many of Cube‘s mysteries slide into place over the course of the film’s runtime, the Big Question — namely, “what’s with the cube?” — remains a relative mystery. (That is, assuming you pretend the no good very bad sequels don’t exist)

Is the death maze a government program? Is it gladiatorial entertainment for a shadowy cabal? A UFO?

The film’s resident nihilist, Worth (David Hewlett), offers the most likely explanation. And, wouldn’t you know it, it also just so happens to be the most terrifying: there is no meaning. It’s just one of those things that shouldn’t have happened that happened anyway; the sum of many parts constructed by well-meaning individuals unaware of the big picture. Why put people in it? “Because it’s here. You have to use it, or you admit it’s pointless.”

The idea that the titular cube is, as Worth says, “a forgotten, perpetual public works project” is terrifying because such monstrosities exist in the real world. YouTube algorithms that generate nightmare fuel for toddlers. The perfectly functioning AI chatbot that became a racist bigot on Twitter in less than a day. The Marble Arch Mound; a ridiculously ugly tourist attraction that got yes-and’d into existence only to be dubbed “a financial and political disaster.”

The cube in Cube wasn’t built with malicious intent. But that didn’t stop it from becoming a horrifying, dystopic, automated murder prison. The products of algorithms are not always part of the plan. And the reality that the hell technology hath wrought is just the unintended by-product of sticky capitalist fumblings is far more terrifying than any shadowy cabal pulling the strings. We’re going to pratfall into an algorithmically-generated apocalypse devoid of human oversight. Not with a bang but with an “oh, shit, we did build a massive cubic death maze?”

Watch “Automated dystopia and the worst tourist attraction of all time”:

Who made this?

This video on what Cube can teach us about automated distopias is by Grace Lee. We’ve covered their work on FSR before and with good reason: they’re an expert at tackling dense and challenging content with a keen eye, elegant flourish, and overwhelming cultural fluency. You can follow Lee on their YouTube channel What’s So Great About That? here. You can follow Lee on Twitter here. And you can support Lee on Patreon here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).