NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Jennifer who says, "An entertaining movie. It kept me engaged the entire time, but it ends with no answer.""
The film begins with a typed memo stating that Arlington Steward, a burn victim, was taken in for treatment and began creating a device that he began distributing to certain people.
It is Christmas time 1976, Norma (Cameron Diaz) awakens. She creeps downstairs and sees a black car driving away. On the doorstep is a plain box. Norma, her husband Arthur, (James Marsden) and their son sit at the table. They open the package to find a lock wooden box with a glass dome over the button and a white card stating that Mr. Steward will visit at 5pm.
Norma walks Walter to the bus stop which is right in front of her house. She has a limp. Walter stands with his friends and is embarrassed that his mom is hugging him goodbye. She threatens to kiss him and his friends urge her to do it. Walter gets on the bus and leaves. Arthur drives up in a silver corvette. Norma says “Isn't it a little early for you to be having a midlife crisis.” Arthur asks Norma if Mr. Stewart is her secret lover. She says that she hates him. He drives away.
Norma is a teacher at Walter’s school. In class a student begins asking her questions about why she limps and what her foot looks like. She removes her shoe to reveal missing toes.
Arthur works at NASA. He attends a news conference. The Mars Project was something he was involved in. He created a camera that goes 360 degrees. If they can proves there was water on Mars then they may be able to prove life once existed there.
Norma is in the principal’s office. He tells her that they have discontinued the employee discount, which means next semester Norma’s son will not be able to attend the private school next semester. After he says this, his nose begins bleeding.
At NASA, Arthur works on an insert for Norma, so she can walk normally. Arthur tells his friends that when Norma was a kid her brother dropped a barbell on her foot, she went to get an x-ray but the doctor left her under the machine too long and her toes had to be amputated and skin taken from her thigh. Arthur’s boss approaches with a letter from the Astronaut training program. He has been rejected which he can’t believe because he aced every test. His bosses call to find out why he was rejected and it was because he failed the psych profile. Arthur was counting on getting the job. Now he sees no room for advancement except a manager position.
Norma meets with her friend. She hasn’t told Arthur. She doesn’t know what they will do because they are already living paycheck to paycheck.
At home, Arlington Stewart visits. Part of his left face is burned away exposing part of his teeth. He and Norma speak in the kitchen. He explains that if she pushes the button two things will happen, a person she does not know will die and she will get one million dollars tax free. If she does not, the box will be given to someone else. She has 24 hours to decide and she can only discuss it with her husband. He gives her a small envelope holding the key that unlocks the dome and allows her to press the button. He gives her 100 dollars just for listening.
That night, Arthur returns home to find Norma holding the rejection letter. They embrace and she tells him about the visit and the box. Arthur examines the box and doesn’t see anything unusual. Norma says that she won’t get her needed foot surgery.
There is a scene where a man from NASA gets a phone call. His daughter has been taken. He leaves immediately. Another man watches him leave.
That night, Arthur and Norma see the play “ No Exit” with the famous line “ Hell is other people.”
Norma and Arthur try and decide whether or not to push the button. Norma says that if they don’t someone else will get the money. Arthur says he checked the $100 and it was real. Norma quickly pushes the button. It slowly pops back up.
At that moment, a woman is shot in the chest by her husband. There is no sign of a struggle. The husband ran out carrying a briefcase. The daughter is locked upstairs in the bathroom.
Mr. Steward returns and hands them the money stating that the box will now be given to someone they do not know. He leaves. They follow. Arthur no longer wants the money. He tells the driver to open the door, but he doesn’t. Arthur writes down the license number.
Upstairs, Norma is in the bathroom getting ready. Arthur sits on the bed with a present behind him. It is the insert. Norma tries it on and walks normally and says she no longer has pain.
Dana, the babysitter plays monopoly with Walter. Arthur and Norma leave for a rehearsal dinner for her sister. They note how fancy the rehearsal dinner is and Arthur remarks that their dinner was a keg party in the backyard.
Norma’s dad is a cop. He starts a game where a name is drawn from a fish bowl and that person can choose a present. Arthur’s name is called. He sees an identical package like the one the box was delivered in. He sees a waiter, the kid who asked about Norma’s foot, holding the peace sign. Back at the table, Arthur opens the package and sees a picture of an uninjured Arlington Steward.
Arthur gives Norma’s dad the license plate number, so he can check on who the car belongs to.
Back at the house, Walter and Dana are playing a game in the kitchen. Walter has his back to the window, so he doesn’t see the stranger staring into the kitchen. Dana sees and asks Walter to take her to the basement to see his dad’s collection about the Mars project. Walter explains how his dad’s camera sent images back from Mars. He shows her a picture with the quote “Advance science is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clark. Walter says his dad knows him.
At the party, Norma is being led away by a waiter, who suddenly gets a nosebleed and forgets what he is doing. Norma said he told her she had a phone call. He hands her the phone. On it is Mr. Steward. He says he knows her husband has been asking question about his car. He says he has employees everywhere and Norma and Arthur are being tested.
Norma’s friend from school is speaking with Arthur. Arthur keeps looking at the waiter who keeps staring. The friend tells Arthur that he humiliated Norma at school. After awhile, Arthur pushes the waiter outside and asks him if he thinks it is funny to make fun of someone with a disability. The waiter starts laughing and laughing until he gets a nosebleed. He finally says, “No, I think it’s tragic.”
As Norma and Arthur get into their car they nose that someone has scrawled the words “ No Exit” onto their snow covered windshield.
Arthur drives Dana to a motel, she said she is staying there because her parents are getting a new house and it isn’t finished yet. During the ride, Dana starts acting strangely. She tells Arthur he has blood on his hands (from the fight with waiter) and asks if someone has been pushing his buttons. She then starts telling Arthur about the light and the person who can help him is in the mirror then her nose starts bleeding and her eyes close, so she seems dead. He stops at the motel and looks in her purse and finds her drivers license showing her real name. Dana awakens with a starts, grabs her purse and goes into the motel. One by one people come out of their rooms and stare at her. Dana goes inside her room. On the wall is a map and pictures of Norma, Arthur and Walter.
At home, Arthur asks Norma where she met Dana and she says at a museum. He asks if Dana lives here and she said Dana rode back with her on the bus. Arthur tells Norma what Dana’s real name is. Later, Arthur sees the group photograph of the people involved in the Mars Project. In the back is Mr. Steward.
The next day, Norma talks to Mr. Steward on the phone. She says that she wants to meet him. He says he can see her right now. Norma sees a man staring at her and walking by her window. She asks if he can still see her. She tries to talk to him some more but he hangs up.
We see Mr. Steward in a gray building with fans and military guards and government personnel. Mr. Steward speaks with a short man with glasses (can’t remember name.) Mr. Steward has a lot of boxes (with buttons) around. He explains that his employers are conducting a test. The way to pass the test is not to push the button. If enough people do not push the button then humanity will be spared.
Arthur and Norma’s dad goes up to the apartment where the woman was murdered. Arthur sees a photograph of Mr. Steward with his wife and some numbers. He steals the paper with the numbers while Norma’s dad is not looking.
Norma is in the grocery store with her friend when a woman approaches gives her a piece of paper, tells her to go to the library, not to trust her husband and to go now. The woman get a nosebleed.
Norma goes to the library and uses the numbers on the piece of paper to find a film. She spots Arthur there and moves to another aisle. On the film is a bridge. Arthur’s numbers lead him to a book and inside the book is an article about how Mr. Steward got struck by lightning. Arthur tries to leave the library but everyone begins following him. On the wall is the picture with the Arthur C. Clark quote. Arthur is stopped by Mr. Steward’s wife who says that the library is for employees only. She takes him to a room, uses her hand to create three doorways made of water. Her nose bleeds as she does this. Arthur must choose a door, one leads to salvation, the others to eternal damnation, if he refuses eternal damnation. He makes the peace sign (door number 2) and goes into the water.
Norma walks through the library. Two women meet her and lead her to Mr. Steward. He asks what she felt when she first saw him. She said she felt love because from now on she would never feel sorry for herself again because at least her pain was not on her face for all the world to see.
Norma wakes up in bed with Arthur trapped in water above her. He falls and water gets everywhere .Walter runs upstairs. Later as they are all cleaning Walter tells his mom that she probably doesn’t remember even coming home and when she did come home she went right to bed.
Arthur’s boss and the man with glasses talk about Mr. Steward and how he had been on the bridge while they were trying to get a signal from Mars and he was hit by lightning died, was put in a freezer until someone heard him laughing and found he was alive and could control people with his mind and do other things but he can’t stay there longs (hence the nosebleeds) so that is his weakness.
Norma’s sister has been married and everyone is gathered at the reception. Arthur goes outside and is forced by gunpoint into a car by the man who shot his wife. Walter goes outside looking for his dad. Norma goes too only to see her son taken away. She is taken away also.
The man tells Arthur that his wife pushed the button and he had to choose between his daughter or wife and by now Arthur’s son has been taken but the man knows that Arthur has been taken to a motel. They stop the car because a man dressed as Santa is in street ringing a bell. Suddenly, they are hit by a car and Arthur is taken by the guys from NASA. Back at the government facility. Arthur is dragged into the car and told by his boss that things are going to change.
Arthur and Norma meet Mr. Steward at home. He says that Walter has lost his ability to hear and see. Arthur must shoot his wife in the chest and as soon as her spirit leaves her body, Walter will see and hear again and the money will be put into a trust fund until Walter turns 18. They can choose to live with Walter being blind and deaf. He gives Arthur a gun with one bullet.
Arthur aims the gun at Mr. Steward who explains he is merely a vessel and his employers would just get someone else. He says he has the utmost respect for them. Arthur tells him that what he saw when he went through the water doorway was the afterlife. Mr. Steward leaves and tells them Arthur is locked upstairs in the bathroom (like the little girl in the beginning.)
They run upstairs but cannot get inside the bathroom and they hear Walter calling for help.
Norma leads Arthur downstairs saying she cannot see Walter like that or leave him like that. She said Mr. Steward smiled when Arthur mentioned the afterlife and that she will be counting the days until she is with him again. They kiss and he says doesn’t regret one day of their life. He shoots her.
Back upstairs, Walter is lying on the bathroom floor (having woken up in the bathroom.) As soon as Norma dies, Walter can see and hear again. The cops find Arthur sitting by the bathroom door trying to get to Walter. They take him away and put him in a black government car and tell him Walter will be okay.
I think what happened was NASA awoke something when they were trying to contact Mars. Those beings took control of Steward and used him to conduct experiments to decide whether or not humanity should be spared.