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Tuesday, March 31, 2009


What if you knew the world is going to end and there was nothing you could do about it?
Knowing goes where no end of the world film has ever gone before, it does not try to explain every event in the movie in a deceptively logical fashion. Very few movies choose this path, afraid they will not be taken seriously. When you put your mind to it, you notice a few things: A) most popcorn movies have preposterous plots that need not to be taken seriously, B) explanation in films take up time that might be used for more important things, such as character development, and C) I really do not go to see movies so I can learn how the Earth’s magnetic sphere works.

Knowing begins in the 1950s, when the kids at an elementary school bury a time capsule with their ideas of what the world would be like in 50 years so they can be dug up and appreciated by kids 50 years later. Most kids make drawings of robots and spaceships but Lucinda Embry, the girl with the idea to make a time capsule, buries a sheet with numbers written on it. 50 years later it is dug up and the sheet falls in the hands of John Koestler (Nicholas Cage). John is an MIT professor in astrophysics, when a student asks him what is his point of view in the determinism versus random occurrence debate the professor simply mutters, “Shit happens”, backing up the randomness theory. The numbered sheet dug up by his son, Caleb is about to rock his world and put his beliefs to the test. John discovers that sheet has accurately predicted the time, place, and casualties of every major disaster in the past 50 years and the numbers just keep getting larger and larger. A colleague warns John of the dangers of numerology. But is this just coincidence? Or could it be that shit just doesn’t happen randomly?
The film was directed by Alex Proyas, whose last film I, Robot was a good popcorn movie but failed to portray the ideas placed by Issaac Asimov in the short story. Knowing is somewhat more similar to his earlier work in Dark City. Like Dark City, Knowing features a protagonist that begins to question the nature of the universe he lives in. And also similar to Dark City, Knowing provides the audience not just with an intriguing story but with beautiful imagery as well. In both movies, as well as in his earlier film The Crow, Proyas manages to inject thought provoking ideas into what would otherwise be simple popcorn films. They are still popcorn movies, but they are smart rather than simple and could provide hours of conversation if you are the type of person who sits in Starbucks to talk about the film after having seen it.
Proyas also manages to bring out the best of his actors. Nicholas Cage, as always, is intense and energetic but rather than wasting his energy trying to figure out the secret lock begind Benjamin Franklin’s toilet he puts it to good use and makes us believe that any regular astrophysicist can deduce a very complicated number pattern in one night. The kids Chandler Canterbury, who plays Cage’s son, and Rose Byrne, who plays the granddaughter of Lucinda and Lucinda herself also give us believable performances playing characters that some adults would have trouble playing.

The special effects and photography are also top notch. Every disaster is seen in incredible detail. Most impressive of all is a plane crash which we see in a single long take that rivals those in Children of Men. And unlike in other "end of the world" movies, where disasters happen in faraway lands so we can see the Coliseum explode, every disaster is experienced by one of the characters.
You might judge Knowing for being too spiritual, or for backing up the existence of a master plan, or creationism. Please be cautious when making such accusations. The film argues for a deterministic universe. This is very different than creationism. If you put your mind to it, you will realize that a deterministic universe, where everything happens because the laws of physics say so, things like free will, something very important in most religious beliefs, is ruled out. The film does have Biblical references, but it does not out rule science. The characters in Knowing do what many people should learn to do, and that is learn to live with both.

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