Nolan (Athie) is a successful photographer who recently lost both his wife and his memory to a car accident. His memory loss causes him to struggle with even the most basic of tasks, and as a result he has become dependent on his young daughter Ava and best friend Gary. Everything seems hopeless until Dr. Lillian Brooks (Rashad) offers an experimental treatment to hopefully revive his memories, using a device she calls the Black Box.
"Black Box" contains examples of:
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The movie takes place with relatively modern technology, but the stuff Dr. Brooks uses, such as the device the puts you into a simulation of your memories and the ability to download her son's mind onto a computer drive is certainly not a point we've gotten to yet.
- Abusive Parents:
- Thomas was this, since his memories demonstrate his wife being afraid of him and him hitting their daughter is what prompts her to push him down a flight of stairs.
- While not as obvious, Dr. Brooks is also this. She seems to mentally abuse Thomas once he remembers who he is, reminding him of how he'll be a failure like his father apparently was, and she urges him to murder a man's soul and steal his body.
- Adorably Precocious Child: Deconstructed with Ava. She is very smart and organized, but it's a response to her dad losing his memory, which forced her to act more adult-like in order to care for both herself and him.
- Bumbling Dad: A tragic example. Nolan is "bumbling" due to memory loss from a horrible accident that took his wife, and it's never Played for Laughs. He is basically dependent on his daughter who is clearly too young to be in such a role, and he makes enough mistakes that her teacher threatens to call CPS if he neglects to pick her up from school. This is what prompts him to go to Dr. Bloom to help him.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Dr. Brooks appears to be a gentle, helpful, if strange scientist who is curious about Nolan's mental state. Then it's revealed that she is a Greater-Scope Villain who is the reason for Nolan's memory loss in the first place.
- Body Horror: The monster attacking Nolan in his mind. Its face is blurred, and it walks in an unnatural broken way, with its body crunching and breaking with each movement. It turns out to be the real Nolan, whose weak and struggling because he's being shoved away in his own mind by Thomas. The bones breaking is likely a reference to the memory of Thomas falling down the stairs.
- Brain Uploading: It turns out that Dr. Brooks has multiple copies of her son's brain saved after he died, of which she uploaded a copy into Nolan's comatose body to resurrect him.
- Cessation of Existence: Possibly Thomas' fate.
- Decoy Protagonist: It turns out the guy we've been watching the whole movie is, in fact, not Nolan, the loving father turned amnesiac, but Thomas, a formerly abusive husband who was placed into Nolan's body by his mother when his former wife murdered him. The real Nolan has been the monster haunting Thomas' mind.
- Foil: Nolan is one to Thomas. Both are African-American fathers who previously had wives and one daughter each, and were horrifically injured to the point of death in some form (Thomas by falling down a flight of stairs, and Nolan by a car accident). However, the similarities end there; whereas Nolan was a loving father and husband, Thomas was horribly abusive to his family. Nolan's accident was a tragedy that took his wife's life, whereas Thomas' accident killed him via Laser-Guided Karma. Thomas was given a second chance at life despite being an absolute Jerkass, while Nolan, despite doing nothing wrong, is forced to be a prisoner in his own mind as The Backwards Man. Pushing this even further is Gary specifying that Nolan was so nonviolent and peaceful that he could barely watch a boxing match, while Thomas has an awful temper and even yells at Ava.
- Cool Uncle: Gary is this to Ava. He encourages him to gain his memory, helps him out when he struggles at home, and even occasionally steps in to watch Ava.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Thomas has this, and yells at people who piss him off, even occasionally getting violent. He even goes so far as to hit his wife, and occasionally, his daughter.
- Heel Realization: When Thomas is about to destroy Nolan's consciousness once and for all, he briefly pauses when he hears Ava calling to them, and then recalls how poorly he treated his own family. this prompts him to walk into the void and allow Nolan control of his body again.
- Mad Scientist: Dr. Brooks is a downplayed version. She is a skilled neurologist, and her technology is advanced to the point of science fiction, and she uses it to resurrect her dead son in the body of another man.
- The Lost Lenore: Rachel, Nolan's dead wife. Although, this a rare variation where he is unable to remember what she was like, which halts the mourning process. By the end when he has his memories back, he is able to grieve properly.
- Uncertain Doom: Thomas' fate is this. He was instructed by Dr. Brooks to not walk out of the "Safe Room" because doing so would prevent her from speaking to him. When he decides to do it near the end, he walks into a black void, with the door disappearing behind him, and sits down. Given that Nolan has control of his body back, it's unclear what exactly happened to Thomas, whether he's still alive, deactivated, or simply stopped existing. Dr. Brooks seeing him in the headset blurs the lines even more.