A person wakes up in a cell that is 14ft cubed. There is a door on each of the 4 walls, 1 on the ceiling and 1 on the floor (6 doors total). Each door leads into a room that looks exactly like the room he is in save for the color. He enters one of the rooms. As he approaches the center, his body is divided into several cubes of flesh (supposedly from something dropped from the ceiling but he is sliced in 3 dimensions, which doesn't make sense).
A total of 6 other people find themselves within the same maze of cells: an escape artist, a doctor, a cop, an architect, a mathwiz, and a mentally handicapped person. They attempt to navigate the maze and avoid the traps. Tension increases as time elapses.
Throughout the movie, testing for traps becomes more nuanced, usually as the unfortunate result of a previous method failing. First method: use of a boot to trigger motion detectors. Fails: the escape artist triggers an electrochemical sensor and dies from acid sprayed into his face. Second Method: rooms with prime numbers between crawl spaces are trapped. Fails: the cop narrowly avoids a trap of wires after entering a room without a prime number identifier. Third Method: the three numbers are Cartesian co-ordinates which allows them to move to an outside wall. Fails: a room has a co-ordinate that goes beyond the dimensions of the cube (which is 26 rooms cubed); there is a space between the cube and the outer wall and they are several cubes above the ground.
During this time, the cop kills the doctor. He subsequently seems to go mad and attacks the group. The architect separates the cop from the group.
The group discovers that the cubes are moving according to a permutation. The mathwiz can now figure out which room acts a bridge to the outside world. However, she also realizes that the traps are in rooms that are powers of prime numbers (the prime number theory held true because any prime number is itself to the first power). But she cannot factor each number in time to reach the bridge. However, the mentally handicapped gentlemen is revealed to be a savant and can tell the group how many factors any number has. They eventually reach the bridge room. However, the mathwiz and the architect are fatally injured by the reappearing cop, who is himself killed as he is crushed between two cubes. Only the mentally handicapped gentlemen escapes into the bright white unknown.
Anyone who loves the Twilight Zone as much as I do, will recognize the similarities between this movie and the episode Five Characters in Search of an Exit. An army major, a ballerina, the bagpiper, a hobo and a clown wake up in a strange cylindrical room, the open ceiling being the only possible exit, frequented by a loud noise. Each character has their own ideas about where they are: Hell, another planet or spaceship, death, madness, or a dream. Only the major makes it out of the cylinder while the others speculate about where he is now. Outside the cylinder, a toy soldier lays in the snow. It is picked up and placed back into the collection bin. The characters are dolls being collected for a toy drive and the noise is the ringing of a bell by the collector.
Both stories remind me of that hypothetical psychological evaluation question: You are in a white room, there is no door and no windows. What do you do?
The question is supposed to test your feelings toward death. But I think these stories are more a sick metaphor for life. None of the characters can remember how s/he got there and do not know where they are. Especially for Cube, they are victims of forces they cannot easily understand and suffer great set-backs to come to their knowledge. Alas, life is brutish, short and nasty and there is no telling what awaits you when you escape. I'm not sure how the death of the characters plays out in the metaphor.
The movie is pretty awful. At least the dialogue and characters are awful. The movie gives you nothing. You never learn what the cube is, where it is, why it was built, why there are traps, why any one of them is in there, or what happens to the man who escapes. Subsequent films explain more but if you saw this movie in 1997, you were left dissatisfied for a long time. And if you don't like the movie, reading the wiki will probably convince you that the explanations do not satisfy much either. The only reason why I am considering seeing the sequel is because I like numbers and because I want to see tesseracts (the four-dimensional analogue of the cube). Space, time, gravity, etc, are manipulated within the tesseracts. Seriously, how fun does that sound? Probably about as much fun as cubes moving in permutations, signaling traps by powers of primes. Which sounded really awesome to me, but was kinda ruined by the characters.