Cubes Counted

This morning, as I was watching the official trailer for Snowden, I laughed. I cackled at Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s weirdly froggy voice, I loled at the trope of the smart kid finishing a Really Hard Test In A Fraction Of The Allotted Time (yes I’m sure it actually happened! Still a trope!), and I guffawed at Nicolas Cage saying “internet haystack.” But what I’m here to talk about is the Rubik’s Cube. Snowden is a known Rubik’s Cube do-er, carrier — I don’t know if “enthusiast” means anything here because I think literally anyone who knows How To Rubik’s Cube immediately qualifies as an enthusiast, but sure — enthusiast. He told Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald that they would be able to spot him in that fateful hotel lobby in Hong Kong because he’d be holding one. Sure enough, Glenn Greenwald wrote in his book, “The first thing I saw was the unsolved Rubik’s Cube, twirling in the man’s left hand.”

But in this movie trailer, JGL-as-Snowden uses the Cube as a hiding place for his little microchip with all the data about the NSA program in order to secret it out of the office. IRL Snowden just used a thumb drive like a normal. The Rubik’s Cube, however (or do we just say Rubik’s Cube? Does it take the article?), has become a total TV-and-movie trope for “quietly smart nerd who can A-Beautiful-Mind his way through complex mental rotation tasks.” And this movie trailer (and presumably also the movie) takes that trope and really runs with it.

I am not a Rubik’s Cube enthusiast, and I have never gotten past the frustration of just wanting to peel off the stickers and move them around so it looked like I had solved it. I’m sure it’s genuinely hard! And being good at it means your brain is good at mentally rotating cubes through planes! I just love keeping track of scenes in movies where someone (usually a dude) quietly solves a Rubik’s Cube as if it were the big math problem from Good Will Hunting. The dopiest example of this is Will Smith’s character solving the cube in Pursuit of Happyness, thereby proving his fitness to be a stock broker. But there are certainly others. This was going to be a listicle, but then I found a nice Dutch man who smartly jumped on the opportunity to buy the domain rubikscubesinmovies.com; he did exactly what you’d think. Please contribute to this wonderful project! I will be tweeting at him shortly. Please don’t send me links to the people solving Rubik’s Cubes blindfolded; I’ve seen those too.