Jungle
Knowing

Knowing

Movie
Studio(s): 
Director(s): 
In Theatres: 
Mar 20, 2009
Grade:
A-
Running Time: 
1 Hour, 55 Minutes

I’m going to tackle this review in two ways: the non-spoiler way and the somewhat-spoiler way. First up, the non-spoiler: I went into Knowing not knowing (ironically enough) much about it. I knew it was directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, and I, Robot) and stars Nicholas Cage and Rose Byrne. I knew it had something to do with numbers and forecasting tragedies and world disasters, but that was about it.

And you know what? It was actually pretty refreshing not knowing much about the film ahead of time. My expectations were fairly low (mostly due to Cage’s recent films), but I also didn’t bring too many preconceived ideas with me. I simply came in and experienced it. And I really enjoyed it. Surprisingly so. As a result, the short, spoiler-free review of Knowing goes as follows: A very solid thriller with some genuinely creepy moments. It’s one of the best films Cage has done in a while. It’s not perfect, but it deals with some pretty weighty apocalyptic ideas and handles them fairly well. Think old school X-Files. Definitely recommended. And I would also recommend going into the movie without knowing too much about it.

Okay. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can actually dive into the film a bit. As I mentioned earlier, this will include a few spoilers. So keep reading at your own risk.

Seriously. Spoilers ahead.

You ready? Okay, here we go...

Knowing is essentially one of the most unabashedly Biblical movies I’ve seen in a very long time. Now as soon as you start talking Biblical or Christian themes in film, you automatically have to clarify what you mean. Unfortunately, both of those words come laden with various implications and issues, depending on where you fall in the faith journey. So let me explain what I mean when I say that this is a Scripture-inspired tale.

I grew up in the church, in the buckle of the Bible belt. My faith is something that’s important to me (and central to my life), but I’ve seen plenty of incredibly crappy Christian “art” that makes me cringe and worse. It’s gotten to the point where I hear “Christian” used as an adjective in relation to music, film, or TV and I automatically assume that it’s going to suck (whatever the art form might be). Unfortunately, a lot of Christian artists have fallen into the trap of thinking that if their art simply regurgitates the highlights of Jesus’ life, that they’ve made something that is worthwhile. Of course, the reality of the situation is that this sort of stuff is often incredibly bland and shallow.

So when I say that Knowing is chock-full of Biblical ideas and imagery, I am most certainly not including it in the crapfest that is most of the Christian ghetto. What I am saying is that the film quite literally deals with key concepts of life, faith, belief, and the end times. Here’s how...

Nicholas Cage plays John Koestler, an astrophysics professor at MIT. The son of a pastor, we learn in fairly quick order that he and his son live a fairly quiet life, still reeling and dealing with the loss of mom and wife, Allison. It’s revealed through various conversations that John has lost his faith in any sort of meaning or purpose in life. There’s an early scene where he’s teaching a class that’s arguing determinism vs. random chance. The fundamental question is: why do things happen in life? For a specific reason or simply because of indeterminate causes and coincidences? It’s immediately accessible, as we’ve all probably had this discussion ourselves at multiple points in our lives.

From there the film moves into prophecy territory, after John’s son, Caleb, retrieves a document of nothing but numbers from a time capsule buried on his school grounds 50 years before. The numbers apparently reveal the date, location and death toll of tragedies throughout the years, leading up to three remaining events in the year 2009. This is one of the areas where the movie really surprised me. The first two tragedies (a plane crash and a subway accident) are filmed in such a way as to be very moving, without seeming weird or forced. I think it has a lot to with the use of sound and lack of music. The way in which these two sequences are filmed makes them feel appropriately scary and brutal.

At this point, Knowing starts moving fairly firmly into apocalyptic, almost sci-fi, territory. We discover that the final event is actually going to impact the entire planet and it becomes a race against time to figure out how to survive it. This is another area where the influence of Christianity is felt (if not explicitly explained). Mysterious figures start showing up, following Caleb and whispering to him, telling him that they are there to help him. Cue the assumption that these messengers are threatening and not protectors. Woven throughout almost every scene is the tension of belief vs. doubt, fact vs. faith.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but there is so much apocalyptic/Revelation-inspired imagery that it’s almost overwhelming. Factor in the idea of a new heavens and a new earth, along with a new Adam and Eve and you’ve got a film that would make the creators of Left Behind jealous.

And this is where I’ll be curious to see how this does at the box office. It’s not explicit enough to appeal to Christian viewers who have to have every last jot and tittle spelled out. But it does deal with enough spiritual and existential concepts to annoy anyone who’s just looking for a brainless action or thriller film. I think it ultimately does a terrific job of walking the line, though I would love to get the opinion who’s not as drenched in Christian culture as I am. I have a feeling that your opinion of the ending will depend a lot on how well you know your end times literature.

So there you go. Knowing. A total surprise to me, and a pleasant one at that. It’s not perfect. A couple of moments fall flat and a bit of the acting feels a little wooden. Yet this is a very well-made piece of cinema. I loved it and I hope that it’ll get a good audience this weekend.

Jeremy Hunt
Review by Jeremy Hunt
Follow him @ Twitter
Friend him @ Facebook