Knowing gets it, but Nick Cage doesn’t have a clue.

Posted on 21 March 2009 by Quaid

Let me get this out of the way first. I am NOT a Nicholas Cage hater. I think he did brilliant work in Adaptation and I rather enjoy his neurotic/geeky persona in movies like The Rock.  But when Nick Cage missteps, it can be bad.

knowing1In Knowing, there are absolutely some cringe-worthy moments (someone should tell Nick Cage to stop squinting and close his damn mouth), but Cage pulls it together enough to not sink the entire film.  And the film has some very interesting things going on in it.  In the end, Knowing overcomes its shortcomings to become an interesting, ballsy and thought-provoking film, even if it takes some shortcuts down the road of hackneyed genre convention to get there.

The movie opens 50 years ago.  A clearly disturbed young girl, Lucinda, is hearing voices, and they tell her to write a seemingly meaningless string of numbers to be buried in a time capsule.  When her note to the future is taken away from her prematurely, she locks herself in a closet and scratches something, we don’t know what, into the door until her fingers are bleeding.

I wonder if this will come into play later?  Hmmm…

From there we jump 50 years into the future (present day, we’re told), where Cage’s John Koestler and his son, Caleb, are living their life together, both attempting to get over the loss of Caleb’s mother.  Of course, the time capsule is opened up.  Each child is given an envelope from one of the children in the past…guess which one Caleb gets?

knowing2John, being an MIT professor and all, quickly figures out (in a scene that seems like it isn’t even trying to be believable) that the numbers on the paper are predicting major disasters across the planet, telling us the date, the number of people killed, and the exact location of each event.  The paper ends with an odd-looking 33, prompting Mr. Cage to ask the obvious question…what happens when the numbers end?

His search for this information leads him to Diane Wayland (Rose Byrne) and her daughter, Abby.  Together they try to find Lucinda’s secrets as well as the identities of the “whisper men” that seem to be following the children.

And I guess that’s all I’m going to say about plot.  It’s pretty standard when you get right down to it.  The “lost wife/parent” angle is played out predictably, and the beginning of the movie begins to annoy us with theoretical ramblings about determinism, God, and the afterlife that seem to be dumbed-down for kindergartners.  There is also an estranged father subplot that is wildly ham-handed and under-developed (but I do like how they handled it at the end of the film).  It really feels like director Alex Proyas is hedging his bets to make sure mass-audiences don’t tune out of a decidedly dark film.

knowing11And be warned; there are a few very intense disaster scenes with some pretty disturbing images.  People get wiped out left and right, and some are left screaming and burning.  These scenes, I must admit, are more well done than I would have expected.  There is a realism to them.  They never quite feel like spectacle, but more like honest-to-God random acts.  Shot with mostly handheld camera, we get a battlefield feeling with events happening both to our main characters and to other people in the periphery of the frame.  Randomness is the goal (and also a theme of the movie) and Proyas pulls it off with ease.

It’s difficult to talk about this movie without spoilers.  Perhaps this is a movie that deserves a spoilerific revisit, maybe around the time of DVD release, but for now I’ll wait until more people have seen it.  I will say that it did exactly what I’d hoped for (based on the trailers).  These disaster flicks tend to all wrap up the same way, and this one throws a bit of a wrench in the formula.  It will take most people by surprise, and I do believe that a lot of people will quickly check out.  Me, though, I respected what the film ended up going for, and I can forgive some of its technical flaws in favor of looking at the big picture.

My biggest problem with the movie is that it seems to be afraid to be what it wants to be.  The movie sells itself as a straightforward thriller, almost a “The Ring” remake, in which a parent must find the right clues to save his son from impending doom.  For 2/3 of the movie, that’s what it is, and that is the absolute least interesting part of the movie.  Had it taken what was unique about its concept and expanded the parts that were new, different, and compelling, this movie could have earned the glowing review that I really want to give it.                           

6 Comments For This Post

  1. Chad Says:

    Let me also get this out of the way first. My wife and I like Nicholas Cage in 90% of his films out there.

    Cage looked as confused as I did at this movie. It is 3 hours since I watched this movie and I still don’t know what the hell happened. Is there a god, or are the aliens god? Why not just snatch the “chosen ones” up and transplant them? Do things happen in a pre determined fashion or do the ultra advanced aliens have the capacity to see/go back in time and tell select people what is going to happen? WTF?
    BTW I am a big SF fan and followed what was happening, but things just didn’t fit together.
    My brain is hurting, literally……WTF?
    About the best thing in this movie is the plane crash scene. I’m sorry I gave away so much but Jesus Christ….WTF? M. Night Shamalan can’t even write such a crazy ass movie. What is with the black rocks?

  2. Quaid Says:

    My personal interpretation is that *SPOILERS* throughout the course of the movie, Nick Cage’s character begins to believe in determinism and in only one possible fate for all people and the earth. The Aliens (I don’t think they are God) are just advanced enough to know the “formula” for all events, therefore they know to send the warning message 50 years before the earth’s destruction AND they know all events that will happen because of this. The Rocks, which come from the landing site at the end of the film, are placed by the Aliens in order to show the characters that each step in their journey has been pre-determined. Why did the aliens do this? I have no clue, but it sure is a cool thematic motif about determinism.

    So I think Nick Cage at the end of the movie begins to believe in an afterlife because he realizes that there is no such thing as chance and everything happens “for a reason.” It’s a bit of a copout, I agree, as they never really wrestle with the problems of free will. But this predetermination, which the aliens figured out and were able to show to the characters through the usage of the rocks etc, makes Nick believe there is an afterlife…especially when the aliens say that Abby’s mom is “safe now.”

    As to why the aliens went through the trouble of all the messages and the rocks and not snatching the kids from the get go, the only answer the movie offers is that the aliens wanted the little boy to make his own decision about whether to go with them. It’s a VERY loose reason, I admit, but of course we wouldn’t have a movie if they didn’t go through all this trouble. That’s my big problem with the movie…it creates all these “standard” thriller things that don’t make much sense just to give an audience what they want. At the end, though, I like the sentiment of the film.

    Wow, that was more than I had planned to write. I think I’m going to do a follow-up piece with lots of spoilers if you want to check back. I can totally understand someone not liking the movie, but I respected that it had the guts to go where it did and that it was interested in complex questions at least a little bit (even though it went out of its way to dumb them down).

  3. ShepRamsey Says:

    I pretty much agree with everything here. There were elements of the movie that were terrible and laughable and ridiculous. Mainly the dialogue and acting and that scene where he figures out what the numbers mean. A lot of this movie is just plain dumb, but at times it has an effect so over-the-top that it’s kinda charming and feels a little like a 50s sci-fi picture. Is that appropriate here? Probably not, but I liked it anyway.
    Bottom line, though, is that it was really well directed in terms of story and theme, and I thought it fit into its let’s-solve-a-crazy-mystery genre very well. Not only that, but it did a good job taking it a few steps further. I don’ know that I’d call it a “good movie,” necessarily, but I got exactly what I wanted out of it. It was very interesting, constantly entertaining, a little bit creepy and ultimately thought-provoking and even kinda moving. I wish all bad movies were this good!

  4. Colin Says:

    I found this a cut above the average sci-fi ‘end of the world’ genre of movie but I, too, was left with a lot of questions – just why was the ‘disaster list’ buried in the first place. In other words, why wasn’t it just revealed in 1959 – why wait until 2009 for it to be shown to mankind?
    Secondly, yes, just why didn’t the Aliens snatch up the kids at the outset?
    I didn’t get the ‘black stones’ bit either – did I miss something along the route? And just why did the heroine’s mother commit suicide in view of the fact she’d re-located to the spot where the space ship was due to land as if hopeful of rescue at world’s end? That said, I think this will become a cult movie in future years as it does have an allegorical quality about it that resonates far more than in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL which was a real hotch-potch of a movie with no real ‘heart’, if you know what I mean. I give KNOWING 8 out of 10.

  5. Joe Says:

    Okay, this movie has left the most cliff hangers out of any other movie that I have ever seen in my entire life. It NEVER explained the black rocks, or where the heck the whisper people went, and what about Diane? A main character trying to save the children DIES OUT OF NOWHERE… umm wow, okay I’ll go along with it.

    I think the story line was pretty well written (exept for the end -_-) but the only problem was it was TOO graphic that it was just plain stupid. If that plane crashed in front of me and there were like, 50 people burning and screaming and there were explosions everywhere, I would be Psychologically traumatized for the rest of my life- you’d be lucky if I didnt crap my pants. So I’m going to have to say OK movie, but Nicholas Cage… not the best actor for that film. Deffinately worth watching if you dont mind how the story line was crazy and **SPOILER ALERT** people died left and right, and randomly aliens came, took the children, and the earth blew up.

  6. Marco Baratella Says:

    I’ve seen the movie yesterday evening. I think that this, like not too much others, should be an interesting film to see.. Some example?

    1) when the plane crash.. the road was stopped by a tank of ‘Airplane fuel’..
    2) aliens.. well. Aliens or Angels? And.. there is a difference between them? 3) Ezekiel.. maybe we should read more about him..

    The film is well done, coherent, tecnically clean. Maybe the tube scene have some problem in rendering.. some ‘strange impact’ and, maybe, the lastest scene should be removed without lose the sense of the film but.. for sure, an interesting movie that I will watch again.. searching for more particulars.

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