Knowing is an odd bird of a film to be sure. I expected little, and yet liked it quite a bit. But what makes it unique is that it can be viewed as either a sci-fi film or a religious parable, I guess would be the term. I’m not much for films that draw inspiration from the Bible, because the meaning is often lost on me. But Knowing found a way to do it without making me cringe, and with the surprisingly strong performance of Nicolas Cage, I found myself fully invested in a film I had no intention of enjoying.
Fifty years ago, a disturbed little girl named Lucinda Embry leaves a page of supposedly random numbers inside a time capsule her class is burying. Fifty years later, that page is dug up and given to a boy named Caleb, the son of MIT professor John Koestler(Nic Cage). John becomes somewhat obsessed with the numbers, and soon discovers that they correlate perfectly to the dates of major disasters along with the number of people killed. This leads him on a quest to discover the true origin of these numbers. Meanwhile, his son begins having visions of a fiery apocalyptic end to all mankind. They are being pursued by a group of pale white figures Caleb refers to as the Whisper People, who bear a striking resemblance to the Strangers from Proyas’s 1998 classic, Dark City. John and Caleb meet Lucinda’s daughter, Diana(Rose Byrne), who’s daughter Abby has been contacted by the Whisper People as well. They soon discover that the final numbers represent the end of pretty much everything, and they attempt to find any possible way to stop the coming apocalypse.
For the first half of the film I have to admit being a little confused. I thought I was going in to see a straight ahead sci-fi film, but even I noticed that their seemed to be many more allusions to Biblical tenets than anything else. Lucinda’s picture of God returning amidst a fiery sunburst, for instance, and drawings that looked a lot like Ezekial’s Wheel. There was also the appearance of the aforementioned Whisper People, who if one is pre-disposed to noticing such things, could be interpreted as being angels. When John is struck down by a beam of light emanating from one of them, it was the first thing that crossed my mind. And because of that, I wasn’t sure where the film was going. John is an astrophysicist, and talk of the planets is also prevalent throughout the film, so I wasn’t sure if we were going to be dealing with angels or aliens. I think what Alex Proyas, who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite directors, has done is make a film that is acceptable to pretty much anybody.
It doesn’t hurt that Proyas has a flair for the dramatic, and his films all take on a distinctive look and tone. Here, Proyas went for a more realistic feel, and it’s a huge success. In particular, his special effect work is top notch, especially an uncut sequence in which a jetliner crashes from the sky literally yards away from John. It’s a fantastic scene, but there are other similarly inspired gems here, including Caleb’s first vision of the end of the world, as well as a concluding sequence which I refuse to spoil here. Proyas, who directed the aforementioned Dark City, The Crow, and the one Will Smith sci-fi flick I actually enjoyed in I Robot, has a knack for directing material that combines the fantastical with the spiritual.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some props to Nic Cage, who I’ve never been the biggest fan of despite his undeniable popularity. He really holds this movie together for me, as he’s forced to deal with Rose Byrne’s inability to carry a believable dialogue with anybody. I usually like her, but in this she was just dreadful. Cage, on the other hand, is more likable the more embroiled he is in some great all encompassing quest. The more that’s at stake, the better he seems to be. If I had to complain about anything, it’s the scenes he’s forced to share with Byrne, which come off as completely forced and wooden, through almost no fault of his own. Yeah, the usual Cage tics are there, but they didn’t bother me this time. He came across as a father who was ultimately worried about the fate of his son, even in the face of impending world doom.
Knowing could’ve screwed up by going too far on the science fiction or too far to the spiritual, but I think it hits a nice balance. That combined with some amazing effects, and a strong performance by Cage make Knowing the surprise film of the season so far.