I like the one-line sign-off from the Kim Newman-written Empire review for Knowing the best: ‘You’re better off not knowing’. I hadn’t read any reviews of Knowing before I saw it – this is quite unusual for me, as I like to keep aware of what is going on in the world of film – so it was quite a rarity for me: I was going in cold and basing my decision to see the film based on the director, Alex Proyas, and the vaguely interesting concept.
Knowing begins 50 years from today, when a school buries a time capsule at the front of the school (not locked or protected – I find it hard to believe that no pranksters didn’t try to break in). In the capsule, there is a list of numbers written by the spooky young girl who says she is being whispered to all the time, although she didn’t get to finish the list in the time provided. In the present, the capsule is opened and the contents given to the children (which is quite irresponsible if you ask me, but we have a plot to move along). The numbers of the spooky girl end up in the hands of the son of Nicolas Cage, who is apparently an astrophysicist at MIT – no matter what happens from now on, the limits of implausibility have been stretched beyond breaking point with that piece of casting. While drunk one night (he is drowning his sorrows after his wife was killed in a hotel fire a year previously), he notices some of the numbers and somehow discerns a pattern that tells of September 11 and the number of people who died that day (after looking it up on the internet). Because he is a little drunk, he decides this isn’t a fluke and looks for more numbers and, because he is drunk, he doesn’t give up but keeps at it all night. What he finds are dates and casualty numbers for events for the past 50 years (including the accident that took his wife), and three more that will, fortunately for the sake of ticking clock in a movie, happen in the next three days. When he happens to witness the first of these events close up (by accident), he somehow convinces himself that it is connected to him and that he must do something about it personally (rather than get professional people who are not cloistered academics to help).
The strange thing about the film is not that it feels like an M Night Shyamalan film – specifically, the echo of Signs, where the end of the world is witnessed from the everyman position rather than the normal location of being the team who are dealing with the problem (such as The Core or Armageddon), and the protagonist is a man with connection to religion but who lost it with the death of his wife – but that it has this silly plot made gruesomely serious by the violent reality of the accidents. Cage is present when a plane crashes in front of him – we see the plane crash and Cage run into the wreckage as people on fire come running out and bits are still blowing up – and he is there at a subway derailment; we see people being mown down in front of it before cutting to the POV of the driver, seeing people smacking into the windscreen, which cracks in response and has blood splatter over it. Why is this necessary? It’s like watching the beginning accident at the start of Casualty episodes, but with bigger budgets and more bloodlust. It feels completely out of balance and very jarring.
I don’t usually talk about the end of films in what I optimistically call my reviews but I have to include SPOILER WARNINGS because I want to mention the silliness of the end of the film to discuss the oddness of it. So, Cage’s son has been hearing the same whispering as the spooky girl from the beginning and seeing silent albino types hanging around who gave him a dream of the future. It also turns out that the the last set of numbers refer to the end of the world – the film has mentioned the unseasonal heat but, completely out of nowhere, Cage mentions that he made a prediction of a solar flare in the Pleiades, which is now what is going to happen to the Earth, killing everyone. However, in what is supposed to be a happy ending, his son is taken by the silent albinos to another planet – they are aliens but they have a wing-like effect on their backs, so the angel implication is blatant, and they take a lot of people who heard their message (the whispering) to another planet to start again. Now, I don’t know about you, but that basically sounds like a science fiction interpretation of the rapture – the chosen ones are taken up at the end of the world and brought to heaven (more or less; I’m paraphrasing). Which is just incredibly silly – what are those kids to do on this heavenly new planet? The thing is that you watch the film thinking: surely those creepy people aren’t going to be aliens? They must be misdirecting, surely?
Knowing is very silly, although done very well, from Cage’s silly hair to the seriousness with which it takes itself, to the religious theme that haunts the ending (Cage goes back to his father to die in the solar flare; his father says, ‘This isn’t the end’, in a horribly corny moment) to hightlight the depressing fact that you’ve just watched a film about the end of the world with no positive outcome. It has taught me a lesson – don’t see a film based on just the trailers.