Review: “Knowing”

March 22, 2009 at 12:34 am Leave a comment

The first half of this review will be spoiler-free.  I don’t generally do reviews with spoilers anymore since it obviously takes a lot of the fun away from people who haven’t seen the movie, but in this case, the ending warrants a section devoted strictly to it.

Knowing is the latest feature film from director Alex Proyas, who gave us Dark City (1998), The Crow (1994), and I, Robot (2004).  The trailers, if you haven’t seen them, set up the basic premise of the movie: a time capsule unearthed by a local school contains a piece of paper with numbers written all over it.  These numbers pique the interest of John Koestler (Nicholas Cage), an astrophysicist working at MIT, who believes the numbers are a pattern that predict disasters.

Honestly, that doesn’t sound like a movie I’d be particularly interested in.  Although I respect Proyas and like his previous movies, Nicholas Cage’s track record has been spotty of late (at best), and this felt like just another paycheck for the both of them.  However, the studio allowed a brief screening of two scenes from the movie at this year’s WonderCon, and they blew me away.  Without giving too much away, but the scenes that they showed were from the trailer: an airplane crash and a subway train crash.

Needless to say, the sheer horror I felt when watching those scenes made me go, “I must see this movie.”  So I did, and I’m glad I did.  For the most part, the plot keeps you guessing until the end.  “What’s the next disaster going to be?”  “Will our heroes be able to stop it?”  “What happens when the numbers on the paper run out?”  All those question eventually went answered, but I won’t get to that until the spoiler section.

The movie, as a whole, felt just a tad bit too long.  The first act of the movie sets things up nicely, but it moved along at a slow pace.  I felt that there was too much time between the opening and the first major catastrophe, and too much time between that event and the next big one.  The movie clocks in at around 2 hours, but I feel that they could’ve shaved off 5 or 10 minutes.

The cast also does an OK job.  While Nicholas Cage’s name maybe the most prominent one, this wasn’t a movie that was ‘meant for him’.  Not that he’s particularly bad or anything, it’s just that I think that if anyone else got that role the movie would’ve been just as it was.  And Rose Byrne, who plays Diana Wayland, does a terrible job of screaming and saying her lines.  It just sounded awkward, almost comical.  The children also dont’ get annoying as child stars tend to do when they have important roles.

The cinematography was very good throughout.  The movie was shot digitally on the new ‘Red’ digital cameras, and though they obviously did some color correcting on the scenes, the look of the movie was almost film-like.  And the way they shot the plane crash sequence was beautiful.  From the moment they realize the plane was coming down, to the moment Cage’s character was told to get back to his car (about 3 or so minutes) was one unbroken take, or at least it was meant to look like it.  The scene would’ve been shot in parts, edited like an action scene, and generally made to look very ‘Hollywood’, but the unbroken take, along with the documentary-like camera movements and zooms really highlighted horror, confusion, and brutality of this freak accident.

Knowing ended up being a surprise for me, and probably for most of the audience I saw it with.  I was expecting to be entertained, but by the end, the movie had prompted a discussion between myself and my girlfriend, who was also taken aback by the ideas the movie was putting forth.  Roger Ebert’s review states that this is “among the best science-fiction films [he’s] seen”, and while I won’t go as far to say that this is among the best I’ve seen, it’s certainly very good and worth checking out.



Spoilers below!

To put it bluntly, the last 15 or so minutes of this movie was a literal “WTF?” moment.  Basically, the secret of the string of numbers is revealed, along with the reason behind the creepy-looking strangers that seem to follow Nicholas Cage and his son around.  Turns out that the numbers were left behind for a reason; not just as a warning, but almost like a checklist.  These bad things are going to happen, and when they do, you know the end of the world is coming.

The reason Cage’s son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), is being haunted by crazy visions, is because he’s been chosen, along with a select few other children around the world.  The numbers were left behind by a girl name Lucinda way back in the 1950’s.  She was actually a messenger chosen by aliens to prepare mankind for the inevitable.

Now, these aliens actually pose a serious question.  These are just your run-of-the-mill grey or green skinned aliens.  There’s one particular shot that really made me question if these were aliens, or if they were…angels.  As the aliens ascend to their ship, along with the children, they appear to have wings.  It could’ve been just some wierd gaseous substance that surrounds them, but I think it was deliberate that the filmmakers made it look like they ahd wings.

And now the biggest mindf*** of the whole movie: the final scene.  The children are whisked away by the aliens to a new planet, what appears to be the Garden of Eden, complete with a gigantic tree that appears to be the Tree of Knowledge.  The whole planet, or ‘garden’ if you will, seemed like this would be where Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs had sprung from, and it raises the question of, “Did God create us, or did aliens?”  Or, maybe the aliens aren’t aliens, and they’re angels, they just have ships to help them much like we have vehicles to help us, and God has masterminded all of this.

There’s also the issue of Free Will vs Predetermination.  Roger Ebert also posted a separate entry on his blog about the issue, which is worth a read for those interested.  Basically, the aliens/angels/whatever had to have known somehow that the catastrophic events in the movie (including 9-11) were going to happen.  After all, they gave the info to a messenger that wrote down all the dates years before the events happened.  It’s possible that maybe they orchestrated the events for some reason far beyond our ability to comprehend, but let’s assume that they weren’t responsible, they just knew they were going to happen.  So what does that mean for free will, considered quite possibly the best gift God gave Man (if you’re of the religious type)?

If everything was predetermined, then there has to have been some higher power at work that passed on the knowledge to the aliens/angels, who then tried to warn us.  Or, maybe the movie’s ‘synchronicity’ law is real: there is an exact mathematical formula to the whole universe and the aliens/angels have figured it out and they chose (either at random or through some sort of vetting process) a messenger(s) to deliver the news.  The messenger tried to warn/tell us about it, but we don’t listen or don’t understand and all hell breaks loose.  If that’s the case, then free will doesn’t exist and everything we do has been predetermined by some ridiculously complex formula since the Beginning of Everything.

And to make heads spin faster, toss in the whole Intelligent Design and Evolution theories.  If there is a higher power, did this power have a hand in crafting humanity, or the entire universe?  The whole Evolution thing suggests that life is absolutely random and that, against the mathematical odds, life evolved on this planet by sheer luck.  However, the predeterministic (if that’s even a word) theory of everything being calculated since the Beginning kinda tosses this out, as according to whatever formula governs everything, life was guaranteed to have occurred on this planet (and possibly elsewhere) at some point.

Anyway, the ending was totally unexpected.  I’m sure there are plenty of people that are going to see this movie and be totally pissed off at the ending, but I thought it was so well done that I accepted it, only because it had me wanting a discussion beyond a simple, “Yeah, that was a good movie.”  Good movies tend to do that.


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