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March 22, 2009


Movie Review – Knowing (2009)


Knowing (2009)

Knowing really creeped me out. This is not the reaction the film intends. The script, direction by Alex Proyas, and performances practically drown in sincerity; the film aims at various times to inspire feelings of tender sympathy for the characters, fright, dread, and spiritual uplift. I felt instead a mounting distaste. My review is an attempt to parse out why, and necessarily discusses the plot in detail. Anyone looking for a spoiler-free review should stop reading here.

The film offers a pan-religious, non-political vision of the end of days. It is not a universal vision; Buddhists and pagans, among others, will not find their beliefs represented. Nor will it please “Left Behind” acolytes and others who hold a specific, detailed vision of a coming apocalypse. It is crafted to speak to monotheists who believe in the existence of an after-life and keep an open mind about when and how the world will end. Humanity does not bring that end upon itself in Knowing; neither sin nor climate change has anything to do with it. The medium of destruction is an impersonal solar flare that turns the earth into an orbiting cinder.

Nicolas Cage plays John Koestler, a recent widower with a young son named Caleb. John finds out the world is about to end shortly before the rest of the planet by decoding a numerological prediction of 50 years worth of natural and man-made tragedies culminating in the end of everything. Having just witnessed the preceding two tragedies on the list, and having been unable to do anything to either prevent them or ameliorate their severity, he understandably greets the discovery of the solar flare by asking why he received this prediction when there’s nothing he can do about it.

That question is of course the heart of the matter. That the film does not offer a satisfactory answer is its greatest failing.

John proposes himself as a prophet, a claim the film treats with misplaced seriousness. John is not a prophet in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic meaning of the term; he is not divinely inspired, carries no message of repentance or salvation to his community, has gained no mystical insights. Nor does he meet the non-religious definition of a soothsayer: he only deciphered the prediction, he didn’t make it. The woman who made the prediction is an unhappy amalgam of the two definitions. God’s messengers whisper in her ear, but she acts on it by foretelling the date of her daughter’s death– thereby inflicting permanent psychological scars on Diana (Rose Byrne), the daughter– and going into seclusion, finally overdosing in her mobile home in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts.

The film offers another answer in a third-act dialogue exchange to the effect that the purpose of the prophecy was to prepare the way for Caleb’s removal, along with the soothsayer’s young granddaughter, two rabbits, and presumably two of every other fauna, to a new Edenic planet by frightful aliens-resembling angels. The value of this answer is significantly undermined by the fact that John is not an actor in events, but merely a passive observer; he learns of the end mere hours before it becomes public knowledge; Diana early on collapses into hysterical irrelevance; and the handful of other people who are told of the prophecy play no part in the unfolding drama.

So why did John receive the prediction?

To set the plot in motion. To supply a reason for him to witness a plane crash and subway train derailment, horrifying events simulated at length and in great detail using state-of-the-art special effects, stuntmen set on fire, and numerous screaming extras. So he could be made to repeatedly vocalize the film’s message that we will be joined in eternal reunion with our loved ones after death. Because if he hadn’t there would have been no movie.

1 1/2 stars

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. RDW1455
    Apr 7 2009

    I really enjoyed this thought provoking movie. Even though it was a bit anti-religous it made me ask..What if God were an alien who had once seeded the earth? Would that make God any less God?
    I don’t know if this was the writers intentions but the question cropped up in my mind anyways. The film also touched on time travel I think…how else could children write what was to come in the future so acurately with dates,places and times (unless God or aliens with the ability to see it) hadn’t told them.
    Only thing I found to fault the writers for was the poor ending…hope I don’t give it away but…why couldn’t the boys father and his immediate family join him on his voyage to the new world?
    Hmmm, other than that…I loved it!

  2. Helen
    Apr 7 2009

    The family going along would be at odds with the film’s quasi-religious allegory: the children as the Adam and Eve of the new earth and/or the two humans (species breeding pair, cf. the rabbits they are given to carry) of the Noah’s Ark that takes them there.

  3. umut
    Jul 2 2009

    Noah’s ark plus, what was the last picture? i really could’t stop laughing. adam & eve running towards a TREE!!! i said “don’t spoil it this time!”

  4. Kira
    Jul 16 2009

    This movie is like the best~!! I love to its every bit… It’s not creepy at all, just action-filled… It really pulled at my heart strings when John and Caleb are force to separate::~ And then the whole world is incinerated ><"

  5. Nir Shalev
    Dec 28 2009

    Helen, I can actually explain to you why John had recieved the coded message. He didn’t actually recieve it, as in it wasn’t intended for him. It was intended for Caleb. Whether or not Caleb would ever be able to decode it, the Whisperers were there to guide him all along.

    I had originally watched the film on DVD and I watched it twice in a row. The first time was to see why people hated its ending anf the second time I watched it listening to the comemntary track that explains every aspect of the film. The film’s underlying message is that John is not a great father figure. He loves Caleb but doesn’t look out for him. Throughout the film John became more interested in the coded message and disasters to follow, rather than noticing that strange men are following his son. The story centres on John’s inability to notice that everything does not revolve around him but rather his son and the other girl. It tragic in that sense and I gretaly appreciated it. I find this to be a heartbreaking film from start to finish.

  6. Helen
    Dec 28 2009

    John as unintended recipient is a plausible interpretation as far as the plot point goes; however, I’m not convinced that trying desperately to avert the coming apocalypse makes a man a bad father.

    That was flippant, but I just really didn’t like this movie.

  7. Nir Shalev
    Dec 30 2009

    John wasn’t trying to avert the oncoming apocalypse. He was running around like a lost lamb, confused because of the disasters surrounding him and the strangers following his kid.
    One major philosophical ideal was mentioned in the film, “why am I made aware of the end of the world when there’s nothing that I can do about it?” and another one is that “we are afraid of that which we do not understand”. And when we are afraid we tend to lose track of everything that is happenings “in the moment”. On my first viewing, when the movie was over I felt very melancholy because John felt what it’d be like to sacrifice his son for the greater good. Knowing that his son would move on and he’d be dead within hours hit him like a brick wall and when he fell to his knees and cried I felt his pain. I am not a parent I’m not even married but the third act of this film hit me on an emotional level and I understand why you dislike it. As a matter of fact, most people that had watched it hate it. At best, people loved it until the end. I find that ironic.

  8. josef
    Nov 20 2011

    fucking aliens are u being serious thats got nothing to do with aliens its fucking weird i thaught that they were spirits that were protecting them and also i thaught that the marbles wuld have kept them alive until dianna died but aliens u gotta be kiddig me

  9. Nov 20 2011

    Angels, more like it. They even travel around in a carriage (or spaceship), one that resembles the one from The Bible. But even Proyas prefers the aliens angle. Then again, who better to save man kind than aliens?