Alex Proyas’ Knowing is a far braver and more intelligent film than many will give it credit for. It deals with that eternal, unanswerable question – do we really have free will or is the universe pre-determined? Do our actions alter the events of the future, or have all our decisions already been planned by some higher power? It’s a question that creates implications of gargantuan religious and scientific proportions. And no, the new Nicolas Cage film doesn’t answer it. However, Knowing is one of the most entertaining, and dare I say it, thought provoking sci-fi films of recent years.
Cage stars as astrophysicist John Koestler, a widower who has made peace with the seeming randomness of the universe. His son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) is too young to have any definitive cosmic beliefs, but is willing to accept that anything is possible. At the 50th anniversary of Caleb’s school, a time capsule is lifted from the ground, and the contents are distributed amongst the students. Caleb is given a sheet of paper filled with numbers, furiously handwritten in no apparent order by a young girl fifty years earlier. John spots a pattern – the date of a specific disaster, followed by the number of people killed, and finally the exact coordinates of the event.
He obsessively checks every number, and every major catastrophe of the past fifty years is accounted for. His scientist friend (Ben Mendelsohn) reminds him that numerological patterns can be found in almost anything. He makes a good point, although in this film, it falls on deaf ears. With three disasters supposedly still to occur, Koestler finds himself questioning his ability to change the inevitable, and also his place in the universe. Wait, just three disasters left? Just as the film’s tagline says, what happens when the numbers run out?
While Cage hasn’t been the most reliable actor in recent years, he has always been a likable one. The acting in the film is uniformly bad, but Cage manages to provide a captivating anchor in a story that is much larger than any one man. Rose Byrne is tremendously unbelievable as the granddaughter of the girl who originally wrote the numbers, and the child actors are unfortunately, pretty unconvincing. What keeps Knowing from falling into Wicker Man territory however is the phenomenal direction by Alex Proyas. Although he doesn’t quite have a handle on his actors, his visual eye is extraordinary. Knowing features what is possibly the best ever plane crash in film history and Proyas captures it all in one 3-minute take on hand held camera. There are two other major set-pieces that are equally jaw-dropping. A film that only cost $50 million to make should not look this amazing.
The storytelling is also masterful, with breadcrumbs of the shocking finale littered throughout the film. Knowing manages to be intriguing, and constantly surprising – which is probably as ironic a film about predestination can be. Therefore it’s such a shame that the film’s ending will probably send most viewers out of the cinema in either tears of laughter, or furrowed brows of incredulity. Neither are deserved. The film is a puzzle, and not necessarily a solvable one. Why should every movie have to be completely understood by the time the credits roll? Part of the fun is talking it out in the car ride home; attempting to wrap your head around the film’s ideas, and where that sits amongst your own beliefs. I’m three days into my analysis of Knowing, and I’m still figuring it out. And I love that I haven’t quite yet.
Yes, I am fully aware that Knowing has been completely drubbed by critics around the world. It currently holds a depressing 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I have a feeling that a lot of that hate is based on the film’s ending. Despite what the trailer may imply, Knowing is a science-fiction film, and easily one of the most provocative made of late. If you’re not one to have an open-mind, than any sci-fi can seem ridiculous. A film that can stimulate my mind to the point that I cannot think of anything else is worthy of praise. The acting may be a problem, but some films are so special they deserve a pass here and there. Knowing is about faith; the belief that one day the mysteries of the universe will be explained to us, and the knowledge that anything is possible.