Sunday, March 22, 2009

Man on Film: Knowing

I guess the good thing about not having an opportunity to write anything of substance for a week or so is that when I do get a chance to write something, I have more than one thing that I could tackle.

First on the IP agenda is a reflection on the new Alex Proyas film--oh, who am I kidding--the new Nicolas Cage star vehicle Knowing. Now, any reader of this blog knows of my Nic Cage fandom, of my adoration of his more recent decisions to simply make the movies he wants to make while giving little thought to how these decisions will further his career/profile. This means Cage is generally doing films that aren't simply pandering for Oscars. It also means he's doing schlockier films that I would generally rather see than bullshit like Doubt or The Reader or Atonement.

Knowing finds Cage teaming with Alex Proyas, director of The Crow and Dark City, for an overtly religious* apocalyptic film. Luckily, the audience is treated to a Nic Cage movie with a large budget, meaning that Nic Cage's movie selection skills are then augmented by money--a great thing, if you ask me.

*As a, well, less than religious person, I am honestly not that bothered by a little religion in the media I am consuming. After all, I was raised by an ordained Presbyterian minister (and Presbyterians require their ministers to go to seminary).

I love
Seven Swans, the Sufjan Stevens Christian record. There is a lot of religion to be found in the works of Dylan, Springsteen, Cash, and many other prominent musicians. The Indiana Jones franchise has certainly veered into the religious, and IJ: KOCS** notwithstanding they were all pretty damned entertaining. That being said, most material that errs toward being overtly religious is made for a religious audience, which frankly makes most of it unwatchable. There is a fine line between using the tradition and history of religion to add depth and richness to a story and using a story to disseminate religious propaganda.

**Holy shit. How fucking terrible was IJ:KOCS? Seriously. I urge everyone to see it (but for God's sake, do not pay for that privilege), just to see how fucking awful Lucas and Spielberg have become. Remember when they didn't make movies that were a) fun, and b) not retarded? What happened?

From here on out, I am going to be going into the realm of the revelatory, so beware of spoilers. Knowing, if you weren't aware, is about a professor in astrophysics at MIT, Dr. John Koestler, who has recently lost his wife (as we discover a little later in the movie) in a hotel fire. Having lost his way, he has become detached from nearly everything, holding fast to the belief (in his grief) that there is no meaning to anything. The only thing that brings him out of his depression is a drunken delving in to a series of numbers his son got from an unearthed time capsule. He finds that the numbers predicted every disaster for the previous 50 years, with three events remaining on the list.

As he finds himself (by chance) at the site of the first of the three remaining predicted catastophies, the numbers are validated.

In this first event, Nic, er, John sits in an accident-caused traffic jam and realizes that the numbers following event dates and death tolls are latitudes and longitudes and the next one is directly where he's sitting. As he gets out of his truck to inspect the accident scene, presumably suspecting that the pile up is the disastrous event, a plane comes screaming from the sky and a wing rips through the rain-soaked highway directly behind our hero. What follows is an especially intense tracking shot with John Koestler rushing to the wreckage, surviving passengers and fuselage both afire. Objectively (read: Cage fandom withheld), this scene works very well and sets the bar pretty high.

As the film dives deeper into the significance of the numbers, there is the introduction of the Aryan Child Whisperers. If there is one thing Proyas brought with him from Dark City, it is the creepy otherworldly entity. The others in Knowing clearly owe a bit to Village of the Damned and a bit to Dark City. They are basically the poster children of the Aryan ideal in trench coats who whisper telepathically to children. It is a little fucked up if you think about it. As I imagined it in the theater, they were what became of the Nazi super soldiers, complete with the powers of telepathic communication, control of others' willpower, and emittance of blinding light from their mouths. Oh, and until the end, you think they might be pedophiles*.

*Courtesy of "The I.T. Crowd":

It turns out the Aryan Child Whisperers are just guardian angels/aliens (they eventually shed their earthly forms to become buff, incandescent prototypical bipedal aliens, insinuating that aliens are actually angels, which is a semi-interesting marriage of the two), and the final seemingly incomplete sequence of numbers is that way precisely because--as Professor Koestler pieces together--the entire world is about to get wiped out by a solar flare.

In between the plane crash and the solar flare realization, there is also a screechingly violent subway wreck sequence in New York that should be recognized at least for the effectiveness of the spectacle on the big screen with maxed out decibel levels.

Back to the apocalypse, wanting to investigate a mother's prescience (her mother, Lucinda, was the one who wrote the numbers on the sheet in the time capsule), John seeks out Diana Wayland (played by Rose Byrne) in his quest for answers, and Diana's daughter, Abbey*, turns out to be another target of the Child Whisperers. At first, Diana pushes John away, but after the New York incident, she turns up at his stoop.

*How the hell did the casting director find a little girl who I joked in jest was Rose Byrne's younger self before I knew Rose Byrne was in the film? Good work.

Now, this is a PG-13 movie (despite the disturbing people on fire and fairly graphic subway sequence), but the night before the end of the world, each parent finds him/herself comforting their child rather than finding warmth with one another, which I guess is plausible, but that is not where my mind went. If I'm John Koestler, I'm totally doing working the "Hey, it's the end of the world..." angle on Diana Wayland.

But I digress.

As they prepare to leave for a cave, something strikes John. Diana decides they cannot wait, and takes the kids, just as John finds that the location that was cut off was the site of Diana's mother's trailer. Then, when Diana stops for gas to make it to the cave, the Aryan Child Whisperers become Aryan Child-Whispering Kidnappers. Diana dies in a fairly violent car crash whilst in pursuit of the Child Whisperers, just as her maternal shrieking reaches a breaking point.

What follows is an odd Noah's ark space sequence, with each of the kids carrying a pair of rabbits on board the alien space ship, where they are going to reboot humankind, presumably by procreating in the manner of the animals they carry with them, and the children play on a planet that looks like a meadow in Scotland with the Tree of Life atop a hill, as other ships drop off their chosen. Meanwhile, EARTH GETS WIPED OUT BY THE SOLAR FLARE. Everyone fucking dies, including John Koestler, who returns to his estranged parents' home. The entire planet is wiped out. No one saves the day by blowing up the sun--well, obviously that wouldn't work because the whole world would blow up, but this is a fucking movie and they usually blow up the asteroid/comet that's going to kill Earth. Everyone fucking dies, but there's a sci-fi Noah's Ark scenario which is not exactly what I was suspecting.

Now, if only I could get the other part of the movie with the kids who get to carry bears with them on their space ark...

P.S. Fuck the joyless film critics who don't get the appeal of Neo-Cage and want their movies to make sense.


Little Brother said...

As I told you before, I really liked it, too. Not that I didn't believe in God/Higher Being before (more annoyed with institutionalization of organized religion and what it lacks), but it's made me think about it a lot more than any other movie I've seen in a long time.

KRD said...

1. This whole review made me laugh real hard because I was JUST thinking yesterday, "Who sees Nicholas Cage movies anymore? Could any actor be less relevant?" I don't think I've seen one since I walked out of Face Off. (The only film I've ever left the theatre over.)

2. GL and SS got old. Now, why that has not made Harrison Ford uncool, I can't explain. That movie is one of the worst things ever committed to film though.

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