Pandora’s Nuclear Box in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

In Greek mythology, the story of Pandora’s Box tells about how all the evil in the universe was released. Pandora was told not to open the box for any reason. Of course, Pandora’s curiosity got the best of her, and all the evil was released from the box onto the world. This myth, fused with cold war paranoia, stands at the heart of the 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly. In Kiss Me Deadly, director Robert Aldrich uses the story of Pandora’s box to create an anti nuclear message in the nihilistic conclusion of the movie.

Towards the last thirty minutes of Kiss Me Deadly, the film takes an almost supernatural turn. The object that everybody is after is a leather briefcase at the bottom of a Hollywood gym looker. The object itself is perfectly cubical and emits a great deal of heat. Curious, our anti-hero Mike Hammer peaks inside the contents of the box. As he lifts the lid, an intense blinding light is given off, with what sounds to be screams coming from the inside of the box. This is reminiscent of the glow coming from the suitcase in 1994’s Pulp Fiction. After receiving burns from the box, Hammer seals it back up. While we still do not know what is inside of it, we do know that is dangerous. The heat, the bright glow, and screaming are all common characteristics that we associate with hell. It is clear that Aldrich is trying to create similarities between the contents of the box and hell.

As we move forward, we find out that the mysterious box is somehow connected to “Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, trinity.” This is trying to draw comparison to a possible man made nuclear device that’s detonation is the opening of the box. The box is being held by Dr. Soberin in his beach house and is being sold to the highest bidder. It is not Dr. Soberin’s intention to bring about the end of the world, only to make money. This is evident by his dying words “you must not open the box.” He like many of the other characters, including Hammer, is over come by greed.

The box then winds its way into the hands of femme fatal Lily. She obtains the box after shooting Dr. Soberin because she cannot receive the profit she feels she is entitled to. She despite, Dr. Soberin’s warnings opens the box completely. Steam rises from the box as Lily produces an ear rattling scream. Soon, fire engulfs her as a wounded Hammer crawls into the ocean with Thelma. Wild lights, smoke, and what sounds like screams come from the house until it completely explodes. The two embrace in uncertainty as all the evil in the world is released by Pandora’s Box.

The box is opened due to greed and curiosity. Greed got the box into the wrong hands, and curiosity opened it. It is clear that Aldrich believes that such danger, similar to nuclear devices, in the hands of man is too hazardous. The opening of the box is similar to the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the device that the protagonist searches for is beyond the capacity of mankind. During the 1950’s, when Kiss Me Deadly was made, cold war paranoia was at a high due to the nuclear arms race. Although the mysterious science fiction like device in the film is not revealed, it is clear that it represents the newly discovered nuclear weapons.

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