A couple of weeks ago, I did a review for the Nick Cage thriller Knowing. You can find that HERE. At that time, I wanted to provide a fairly spoiler-free take on the movie, but there were so many interesting elements of the film that I wanted to explore which would spoil the film for the uninitiated. I decided to revisit the movie later; the time has come.
I should make two things clear from the get go. First off, this is NOT a review. I am not discussing the artistic merits of the film but the nature of its themes and basic premise. I will point out a few plot holes, but that’s as far as we’ll go with the criticism. Second, this is a highly spoilerific article. Reader beware. All right, enough with the clarification. Let’s get to it.
The end of the world. We’ve been predicting it as a civilization since the dawn of man, it seems. ”The End is Nigh” is always on someone’s lips, and usually that person is pushing an agenda. And when Hollywood caught wind of the inherent drama of the threat of Earth’s destruction, movies got made about it.
Usually we blew ourselves up like in Planet of the Apes and The Time Machine. Other times we came to the brink of destruction by an alien race but were saved, a la Independence Day or The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Watching Knowing, though, there was something different. It affected me in a way that other “end-of-the-world” cinema didn’t. And I attribute this to a few factors.
First, the movie posits that the end is not just nigh, it is inevitable. Once the nature of our destruction is discovered, it becomes clear that there is no way to stop it. We didn’t bring about our own demise; it was planned by nature in an unchanging way before the first human ever stood upright.
Second, it focused on death and the characters’ abilities to deal with death and the inevitable end. Mass riots happened in the movie, as they would in real life, but the only real drama left once we know that the world is ending comes from the six inches between the characters’ ears. The decisions they make are chilling and telling.
And third–the thing that is most frightening about this film–its science, while stretched to the level of absurdity, falls eerily in line with a cosmic event in our near future. An event predicted by the 2012 end of the Mayan calendar as well as Nasa scientists.
Let’s take these one at a time…
First, inevitability. In this film, we spend a large chunk of the movie on a very traditional and hackneyed thrill-ride toward discovering mysteries, presumably to stop the end of the world. Once the revelation comes of how the world is to end, though, we realize that there is no stopping it. There is no escaping it. There is no surviving it. Everyone on the face of the earth will die because of a cosmic event that cannot be controlled. There is no digging into the space rock and blowing it up…this event is much bigger than us, and puts humanity’s size and effect on the universe into perfect perspective.
There is a scene earlier in the movie that, while it was playing, I hated. In it, Nick Cage talks about determinism and how every variable had to be in perfect alignment in order to put the earth at the perfect distance from the sun with the perfect elements in play in order to sustain life. The first time I watched it, I thought it was just a silly and obvious “does God have a plan” scene, and it is that, but it’s also more. It is setting up how fragile our ecosystem is. And not just to nukes or global warming, but to celestial events. Sunspots really do interrupt satellite communication, and galaxies really do have a tendency to collide with one another. If any one of a billion freak natural happenings occurs within our galaxy or solar system, the necessary ingredients for life are interrupted and it’s goodbye humans.
This isn’t just a possibility. It’s an inevitability. Barring all this happening, the universe will eventually lose all kinetic energy and return to a gaseous state before collapsing in on itself. By then, mankind will be dead as will all other life. It’s going to happen. At some point in human history, the events of this film will occur in one way or another.
So when the film explains this inevitability, all the silly thriller elements serve only to take us aback as an audience. I thought he was supposed to figure out the code and save humanity?!?!? Not in this movie. And because of that, the film takes on a chilling sense of realism.
Second, we focus on individuals’ responses to this impending doom. I still say that the last few minutes of the movie, with Nick driving down the empty road to rejoin his family and the ensuing destruction, are some of the most haunting things I’ve seen in a movie in a long while. Your death is going to happen, it will be meaningless, and nobody will be left to weep for you. Seeing a group of characters make split-second decisions about what to do with that piece of information is telling.
In the end, Cage’s character believes in God. But I, as an audience member, have to ask the question: Does he believe in God because it is true to him? Or because, at this late stage in the game, there is no reason to subscribe to the alternative? They call religion the opiate of the masses, and when the end comes I don’t know that I’d mind being doped out of my mind. It instantaneously (to me at least) brings up very simple but deep questions of morality, spirituality, and religion.
Third, this movie is affecting because of the time it’s coming out. Roland Emmerich is making a movie about the ominous coincidences and “prophecies” surrounding the year 2012, but I get the feeling that this movie hits the nail on the head more than the other film ever will. Because this is all about unchangeable cosmic occurrences.
Here’s a quick rundown of what happens on December 21, 2012. First, it is the end of the Mayan calendar. Many have disputed what this means. It could be the end of one period and the beginning of another. It could mean (far-fetched though it seems) the beginning of a new state of human consciousness. It could mean the Mayans were smart and just happened to decide their calendar would end on a very celestially significant day. Or it could be a prediction of the end of the world.
Forgetting the Mayans for a second, this is definitely an important cosmic day–at exactly 11:11 GMT, The Galactic alignment will occur–that is the alignment of the December solstice sun with the Galactic equator (the center of the Milky Way Galaxy). This happens only once every 26,000 years, and the Mayans predicted it. Couple this with NASA’s prediction that 2012 will be a height of solar activity (sunspots) and you get a very creepy Knowing vibe. NASA even published a report (do your own research HERE) that predicted serious fallout from the coming solar storms. ”Many forecasters believe Solar Cycle 24 will be big and intense. Peaking in 2011 or 2012, the cycle to come could have significant impacts on telecommunications, air traffic, power grids and GPS systems.”
Am I arguing that the world will end? Absolutely not. I am admitting, though, that this information makes me a little uneasy. And when I saw what Knowing was doing with it, I was affected. It won’t be a massive “super-flare” burn out that kills us all, most likely, but there is a (very loose) basis in reality in the film that reminded me of these upcoming events.
All of these things come together to create a cinematic ending that one would have to call “ballsy.” This movie aims to show you the end of the world, and it does it in a very fatalistic way that makes a viewer (and the unstoppable Nick Cage himself) feel helpless.
I had meant this article, at the start, to be a greater exploration of the themes of Knowing, but I feel like I’m running long. I will say a couple more things and then leave this movie be for a while.
The film’s hope lies in the salvation of the children, arriving at the tree of life in the new garden of eden. There is a feeling that inevitability and rebirth can also provide structure and comfort. This is how life began, and how it will begin again–an endless cycle being controlled by a higher power, whether that be God, aliens, or some yet undiscovered entity. These beings have predicted every event during the course of human existence. Every disaster, no matter how big or small. And the placement of perfectly polished rocks (from the landing site at the end of the movie) serves as more of a thematic element than a plausible plot thread. What it says, then, is “we knew all this would happen. Every bit of it. And there is no other way it could have happened. Take comfort in that.”
I could go into a philosophical discourse on the merits of determinism vs. free will, but we’ll save that for another time.
Still, I am not arguing that this is at all a “great” movie. The plot holes are wide (why not just put all this information in a letter or recurring dream instead of creating a thriller-like mystery, Mr. aliens?). The plot is contrived, and the movie plays toward genre convention much more than it should.
I feel like the filmmakers are doing all this–making so much of the movie predictable and palatable–so that they can get away with the ending they have created. Give the marketing department something to sell; the last ten minutes belong to the filmmakers.
People will (and have) walk out of this movie hating it. But I doubt too many people will leave the theater without something to chew on mentally or emotionally. In the end, that’s the kind of movie I most love. It doesn’t have to be complicated or overly cerebral, it just has to swing for the fences.