Film review by: Witney Seibold




            I’m going to come down on this film’s ending awful hard, and I will discuss it openly. If you want to see “Knowing,” don’t read this review. I also want to clarify right at the outset that I’m going to recommend this film, despite any complaints I make in this review; I assure you, it’s positive.


            Alex Proyas’ “Knowing” is the kind of sci-fi film that manages to be both an effective thriller, and an academic and fascinating look at larger philosophical issues. It asks hard questions like “What does one do with knowledge of an upcoming apocalypse?” and has queries about man’s place in the unfathomably vast universe. The film eventually becomes kind of preposterous, but, upon reflection, it actually started to point its own way toward its preposterous ending, so that’s not necessarily a complaint.


            Nicolas Cage plays Prof. John Koestler, a recent widower, raising his 10-year-old son Caleb (Chandler Canturbury) himself. John is seen at the beginning of the film asking a class if the universe is determined, and that everything has been designed for a purpose, or of the universe is a random series chaotic events that only, as a fluke, produced life. There is a third part to that argument, that uses the phrase “free will” a lot, but that’s not touched upon until later. John, having just lost his wife, ascribes himself to the chaos argument. He also drinks heavily.


            Caleb’s elementary school gathers one morning to dig up a 50-year-old time capsule. All the children receive drawings from the past. Caleb receives a creepy sheet of paper with a long string of numbers on it. John, while staying up all night, eyeballs on the paper, the string “091120012974,” and is able to interpret that as 09/11/2001 + 2,974. i.e. 2,974 people died on 9/11/2001. The sheet indicates hundreds of horrible disasters, their dates, and geographic coordinates. The end of the sheet indicates that there are still three disasters to come. One of which has no number dead, and no coordinates.



            Who was the little girl who predicted these numbers 50 years ago? And what does a scientist do with this information? If there is now hard, scientific proof that the world can be predicted, what does that say about free will? And whose free will? Humans’ or the will belonging to whatever intelligence in charge of it all?


            John eventually tracks down Diana and Abby (Rose Byrne and Lara Robinson), the daughter and granddaughter of Lucinda, the little girl who made those predictions. After some awkward introductions, they eventually team up to investigate Lucinda’s accuracy, and discover that the final prediction is none other than the end of the world. Meanwhile, the two children seem to be stalked by mysterious figures in black robes. John chases them off, but they clearly seem to know something that the adults do not. There’s a lot of discussion of the Biblical apocalypse, and some philosophical musings.




            Here’s where I start to give away vital plot details, and also where the story takes a major shift. It’s also where the film strays from a simple thriller to a majorly weird-ass apocalypse movie.


            When John catches one of mysterious black-clad people, they scream at him. A bright white light shines from its mouth. What’s going on here? John rushes to his lab and discovers that solar flare activity is way up. Indeed, the date at the end of the predictions page was none other than the apocalypse. Caleb and Abby, it is revealed, have been hearing whispers, and that they’re going to be safe.


            They lead John to a dry riverbed. The heavens open up, a gigantic craft descents. The MIBs shed their human forms, and become shimmering angelic aliens. They take the two children away. Solar flares incinerate the Earth.


            The final shot of the film is of the two children awakening on a strange world, clad in white, standing next to the only tree on the horizon. Yes, it is clearly Eden imagery.


            Some people may find this ending far too preachy; it seems to take the Bible literally, but rather than angels descending in wheels of fire, we have aliens descending in wheel-like crafts. In high school, a friend of mine had a theory that Christ himself was in fact a space alien, or perhaps a time traveler. This is the kind of sci-fi film for him.


            But this is not a film that pits science against religion and faith against recorded observation. This is a film that, I think is trying to say that they co-exist. We have free will, but are at the mercy of chaos. Things seem random, but there is indeed a higher intelligence than us. The film, indeed, manages to blend religious imagery without ever explicitly stating that God exists one way or the other. It’s a large-thinking, and humbling film.


            These thoughts, however, are only going to come to a viewer after the film is long over. When, while watching the film, you see the spaceship for the first time, you will likely, as I did, sit in agape incredulity. In most disaster thrillers, we get some hope of survival. “Knowing” has the audacity to destroy the world, and have alien angels save a select few. It’s an HFS moment.


            (The H stands for “Holy.” You can figure out the rest)


            But, as I said, despite the incredulity of its story, and the audacity of its philosophy, I will recommend “Knowing.” It’s a taut and superb thriller, and will leave you with something to discuss. That’s more than most films offer.

Published in: on April 9, 2009 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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