Justin does Knowing

knowing1“The numbers are the key to everything.”

The Scoop: 2009, PG-13 Directed by Alex Proyas and starring Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury and Rose Byrne

Tagline: Knowing is Everything

Summary Capsule: MIT professor happens upon a sheet of numbers that predicts major disasters, including possibly the End of the World.

Justin’s Rating: EE

Justin’s Review: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for,” the author of Hebrews writes in the 11th chapter, “And certain of what we do not see.”  Contrary to what some think, this does not refer to so-called “blind faith”, where you have faith in something for no actual reason.  Real faith, the author states, has reason, evidence and assurance behind it – you just can’t always see the object of faith at the time, but you can draw on that faith because all of the signs point to it.

The core of Alex Proyas’ Knowing is faith, although he never gets preachy enough – or perhaps daring enough – to state it outright.  It is a faith that a faithless character discovers when proven events of the past point to the certainty of the future – what he does not yet see.  In this case, it’s John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), whose son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) receives an envelope from his school’s 1959 time capsule which holds a massive string of numbers that seemingly predict the subsequent half century’s major disasters and tragedies.  John’s lack of faith – destroyed by his wife’s death and his newfound belief that all is random and meaningless – is directly challenged by these scribbles.

Who wrote the numbers?  What do the numbers mean, exactly?  What should be done with this new-found information, which includes a trio of future predictions that have yet to occur?  When coincidences become too unbelievable, does it point to determinism or predestination?  And what does all this have to do with Caleb, who begins to hear voices and see strangers in the woods?

Knowing got absolutely slaughtered in the box office, despite being a solid piece of scifi thriller – or, if you will, a religious thriller depending on how you interpret the events.  The acting isn’t Oscar-level, to be sure, but the bigger problem is that the film begins in familiar, normal territory and quickly ramps up into the fantastical, shooting past most viewers’ bounds of believability.  It’s not a movie that makes its end destination too clear, and as such, seems to go through a metamorphosis a couple times, changing into almost different types of films: drama, mystery, scifi, horror, thriller.  And despite this all, I found it to be a captivating, slick ride that flung candy from its pockets – clever little twists I did not see coming, some tremendous CGI work, interesting questions, and a slowly expanding story that eventually includes the entire world.

I don’t think Cage was the right guy for the lead, because he’s oddly restrained from his normal wise-cracking, insane antics and forced to be somewhat subdued and yet inwardly driven.  In fact, most of the actors in Knowing I could take or leave, because this is a character movie in which the best characters aren’t people at all.

I found his house an interesting “character”, surprisingly enough.  It’s not overtly drawn to our attention, but as various scenes progress, we see that about half of the house is in great condition — well-decorated, homey, comfortable – and then the other half is derelict, ugly and in bad need of painting and refurbishing.  The question of this half-hearted home renovation is a mystery in itself: did John’s wife begin fixing the house, and he gave up after she died?  Is this meant to represent the tattered, fatalistic nature of his soul?  Is this order versus decay?  I’m not sure, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

One of the coolest things about Knowing is that you can take the ending in one of two ways: as purely science fiction, or as an interpretation on the biblical prophecies.  Both work, but obviously as a pastor I found the latter more intriguing, since the movie subtly references a lot of passages that probably shot over the heads of most people (and if you’re interested, I’ll list them in the Intermission! section because they do contain spoilers).  Either way, get to know Knowing, and appreciate Proyas’ latest effort to bring us decent scifi (as with his previous Dark City) that’s a cut apart from the masses.

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Mike’s Rating: 136545068461035135164846413540468431640684168406940613135484684

Mike’s Review: Let’s face it: sometimes this world is a downright nasty place to live. Mass murder, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, reality shows– it’s pretty scary out there. But imagine for a second that you discover a way to predict the date and location of aforementioned disasters. Do you try to stop them from happening, or do you put as much distance between yourself and the prophesized calamity as humanly possible? Well if you’re Nicolas Cage, lets just say the whole living thing is not extremely high on your priorities list.

Cage plays John Koestler, an astrophysics professor at MIT with a serious chip on his shoulder as far as predestination is concerned after the death of his wife in a fire. Things get weird when his “stuff just happens” philosophy is challenged by, of all things, a piece of paper; said paper containing a series of numbers written by a creepy-eyed urchin some fifty years ago, pulled out of an elementary school time capsule and handed to Koestler’s son Caleb. By accident he starts to take a close look at the numbers and finds that they correspond to the date, location, and number of dead for every major disaster on Earth for the past fifty years, with three more left to go on the list. From there the clock is ticking as Koestler, with increasing desperation, tries to unravel and solve the mysteries of the numbers, prevent the foretold disasters from occuring and protect his son from the shadowy figures who have begun to stalk the woods near his house.

As the director of The Crow, Dark City and I, Robot, Alex Proyas is one of my top five all time favorite directors, and he doesn’t disappoint here. The man knows how to tell a story, even one that takes on heavy metaphysical themes including (in the case of this film), a deterministic universe versus a random one, without talking down to the audience. The movie has a genuine feel of dread as events unfold, sometimes with frighteningly graphic consequences, and it’s refreshing to see a film not shying away from the realities of loss of life in a tragedy. More than once I was surprised, not by the story itself (which was admittedly kind of predictable), but by the choices Proyas made in unveiling that story and letting it play out. At times the plot seems just a little too tidy, with some pretty amazing coincidences, but depending on how accepting you are of the predestination aspects of the plot this may or may not hinder your enjoyment of the film. It didn’t hinder mine. There’s some emotional resonance as well, as we follow Cage’s character through an evolution of a disbelieving pastor’s kid, to a man who’s willing to go on faith alone.

Ultimately the best thing I can say about this film is that it stuck with me. The ideas put forth and the plotlines that provided them a backdrop continue to ruminate in my head even a few days after seeing the film. The film makes you think, which is rare these days. This is what we need more of; The kind of science fiction/ fantasy story that would be perfectly at home as an extended episode of the Twilight Zone–entertaining us with wondrous sights in an impossible universe while making us ponder the nature of our own.

"This is just like LOST!  Cool!"

“This is just like LOST! Cool!”

Intermission!

  • You know something bad is going to kill a lot of people and you go the exact location this is supposed to take place? I appreciate you want to stop the loss of life, but you’ve got a kid, man.
  • Lucinda and Abby are played by the same little girl (Lara Robinson)?
  • WILHELM SCREAM! heard during the subway crash.
  • The last line of the movie is “I know”.
  • This is the second film featuring Rose Byrne to revolve around the possible end of the world. The first was Sunshine.
  • Richard Kelly was originally set to write and direct the project.
  • The school in the movie is William Dawes Elementary. William Dawes was one of the riders who, like Paul Revere, warned the minutemen that British troops were coming. Just like a child at his namesake school was trying to warn people what was coming.
  • The text of the time capsule plaque reads, “We, the 3rd grade class of William Dawes Elementary School, in the year of 1959 A.D., hereby commit our visions of the future as a token of hope and friendship toward our successors, the class of 2009 A.D.”
  • [Spoilers!] Some possible biblical references include Luke 21:25-26 (astronomical phenomenon), Ezekiel 1 (the picture on the wall of the trailer), Revelation 14:18, 2 Peter 3:7, Joel 1:18-20 (all of which state that the world will end in fire), “Jesus is the answer” written on the van, 1 Thess 4:17 (the rapture), 1 Samuel 3 (Samuel the kid hearing whispers from God that the adults could not), the new “Garden of Eden”.

Groovy Quotes

Caleb Koestler: I can’t consume that. I’ve decided to become a vegetarian.
John Koestler: Well, when were you planning on telling the guy who buys the groceries around here?
Caleb Koestler: Are you deaf? I just told you now, Dad.

Stacey: Well, what do you believe?
John Koestler: I think $#!% just happens. But that’s me.

John Koestler: Look, I’m not saying that eighty-one people are going to die tomorrow. I just want to know why *THIS* (points to numbers list) SAYS THEY ARE!

John Koestler: The numbers are the key to everything.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Justin does The Book of Eli « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. Pingback: Al’s 2009 Year in Review « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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