Year of release: 2009
Starring: Nicholas Cage
Director: Alex Proyas
Amy and I spent this rainy Saturday afternoon at the movies watching “Knowing,” the new film from director Alex Proyas. I would recommend this film to two types of movie-goer: Those who just enjoy the experience of watching a film without worrying afterward if it makes any sense, and those who get their jollies watching the world come to an end.
“Knowing” stars Nicholas Cage as an astrophysicist who comes into possession of a cryptic document written by a young girl 50 years before. Remarkably it appears that the girl had predicted a series of tragedies, including 9/11 and the hotel fire that kills Cage’s wife and the mother of his son. Proyas does an effective job creating suspense and a sense of wonder as Cage makes this discovery and investigates what it might portend, but I was hoping for more from this film. I admire Proyas’s previous film, “Dark City,” a science fiction noir study of the nature of reality and how we experience the universe. As outlandish as that film was, it maintained an internal consistency and made sense.
Unfortunately, this is not true of “Knowing.” I was entertained — especially since I am not too sensitive to Nicholas Cage’s brooding over acting. But ultimately I was left questioning gaping holes in the logic of the film and concluded the whole thing was a exercise in futility. Or, to use the proverbial roller-coaster analogy, it was a thrilling ride that only dumped me back where I started, having gone nowhere.
I suppose that if all the filmmaker was going for was thrill, this might be acceptable. But Proyas is wrestling with the deepest question of all. Early in the film, Cage’s character asks the students in his class if the universe is deterministic or random. That is, was the universe designed or is everything random chance? Can we exercise free will and change the future or are we living lives mapped out for us? This film could have been as powerful as “Dark City” had Proyas honestly attempted to address this question. But Proyas fudges by adding a wildcard element: Mysterious creatures who may be angels or aliens, who seem able to both see the future and act to change it. As for poor mankind, not so much. Even knowing the future, we are doomed to watch events wash over us like a tidal wave sweeping away a coastal village.
I for one don’t want to be told by a movie maker that my efforts are futile. If you feel the same way, prove him wrong. Skip this film. Rent “Dark City.” You’ll have a better time.