Knowing left me bemused, underwhelmed and rather irritated, which is more than I can say for many of this year’s releases. But let’s take it from the top. The movie is directed by Alex Proyas and the name of the director who made the masterful Dark City was the best recommendation any movie could get. But whereas Dark City thrived on the perfect mixture of beguiling plot, stunning visuals and haunting atmosphere, Knowing relies too much on explanations and religious overtones, and the conclusions, whether intended or not, the movie arrives at are nothing short of outrageous. But I am getting ahead of myself again.
Review by SAndman
December 20, 2009
Director: Alex Proyas
story: Ryne Douglas Pearson
screenplay: Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White
Nicolas Cage as John Koestler
Chandler Canterbury as Caleb Koestler
Lara Robinson as Abby Wayland / Lucinda
Rose Byrne as Diana Wayland
Phil Bergman: Whoa. Just step back. Have another look at it! Systems that find meaning in numbers are a dime in dozen. Why? Because people see what they want to see.
Knowing is a tale of Jonathan “John” Koestler, Professor of Astrophysics at MIT, an estranged middle-aged man who, since the death of his wife in a fire, has distanced himself from his family, his father, a Christian minister, and friends, and while struggling with depression and incipient alcoholism he is unsuccessfully trying to raise his 10-odd year old son, Caleb. One day at Caleb’s school a celebration is taking place and the time capsule containing messages of kids buried fifty years ago (the messages, not the kids!) is being unearthed. Every kid receives a messages and Caleb gets a sheet of paper filled with mysterious and seemingly meaningless sequences of numbers.
By accident Professor Koestler discovers the digits actually represent the dates and geographic coordinates of all the major disasters in the past fifty years, earthquakes, hurricanes, you name it. Except the last three dates!
The last three dates are just a few days away and, oddly enough, the two of them happen to be located within the driving distance of Professor Koestler, with the exception of the last date whose location remains elusive until well into the movie.
Professor confides to his friend who, naturally, doesn’t believe a word he says and offers a rational and quite plausible explanation. Subsequently Koestler tries to alert the public but only succeeds in diverting the suspicions of the authorities to himself. At about the same time he finds out that he and Caleb are being stalked by the enigmatic men in black (sound familiar?), who, according to Caleb, whisper to him, to wit, communicate with him telepathically.
Professor Koestler decides to track down the author of the message, a woman named Lucinda Embry, who the day she penned the message five decades earlier was found in a locker writing frantically away on the inner side of the locker door in blood from her own broken fingernails. He learns that the woman is long since dead but he also finds out that the message is incomplete and decides to follow the leads which will get him to the completion of the message. He believes that the message, the mysterious stalkers and his son are somehow connected and all point to a revelation which holds the key to the survival of mankind.
Knowing is a mixture of psychological thriller, one man’s soul quest and disaster movie. Rather peculiar mixture, I may add, and it doesn’t always hold together. Subplots tend to crowd as the movie progresses and get jumbled and illogical. For example, the first half of the movie is a convincingly chilling storyline about an everyman who stumbles upon an earth-shattering (literally) discovery, his headlong descent into a hell of a life which is knowing the ultimate and irrevocable truth.
But then at about halfway point through the movie we are suddenly served a full blast of the worst kind of contemporary apocalyptic images human mind can conceive – plane crash in closeup, subway derailment again in closeup, all painstakingly crafted, all very self-conscious , and in the final instance, completely redundant. The lead-up to the climax feels long-drawn-out, and some of the most terrifying episodes in the movie are nothing more than fillers which are supposed to keep our attention throughout what is basically pointless and terribly jumbled second half. Interestingly enough, these are the very moments when the acting, especially Nicolas Cage’s rather bland performance, is at its weakest.
There are other aspects where Knowing just doesn’t deliver. The visuals, especially the take on the characters of the Koestlers’ mysterious stalkers, are downright pat and are the millionth and first variation of the flogged-to-the-death SF staple. But perhaps the greatest weakness of the movie is the obnoxious idea that personal salvation doesn’t depend on your merit or your actions but, rather like an exclusive club which admits only the chosen few through no obvious reason or personal quality, is reserved for those who are either conveniently innocent in the cheesiest sense of the word or elected through the intervention of a superior (supreme) being.
Thanks, but no thanks!
If anything, Knowing elicits strong reactions and you will probably either love it or hate it. I’ve seen both. It also offers up a dishful of argument fodder. You may catch yourself arguing with friends for hours whether the plot lines are subtly motivated or downright absurd – I tend to think the latter, but I also happen to know lots of people who would, who did, readily disagree with me.
Some will probably love the movie’s intriguing premise and the darkly brooding tone – Proyas, as evidenced in Dark City or Crow, has a deft hand at creating suspense and memorable images, and Knowing has scenes which are guaranteed to haunt your imagination, take, for instance, Caleb’s vision of the world engulfed in fire, an absolute stunner which gave me the creeps for days after a first watching. However, such visual quality is not kept throughout the movie, and too often does Knowing slip into a cliche or rather self-conscious terror-fest. But personally the most jarring note in the movie was the tacky Christian imagery as well as the dreadful idea that your salvation depends upon a whim or good grace of a god-like agent.