, 121 min, 2009
Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Ryne Douglas Pearson (screenplay) and Juliet Snowden (screenplay) & Stiles White (screenplay), Ryne Douglas Pearson (story)
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne
Alex Proyas’ Knowing is masquerading as an utterly preposterous sci-fi thriller, but is in fact a dark, mysterious, fascinating morality tale which leaves us with tantalizing implications. It is also an utterly preposterous sci-fi thriller.
The film begins in 1959, where a sad, sullen, pale, dark-haired young girl sits in an elementary school class. The class has elected to create a time capsule with drawings of what they think the future will look like. Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), the sullen young girl, sits pressing deep, dark numbers obsessively into her piece of paper. Then she disappears for most of the day. They find her in a closet, continuing to write the numbers – digging her fingernails into the door.
Flash forward 50 years and Nicolas Cage is John Koestler, an MIT astrophysics professor and widower whose young son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), prone to occasional moments of vegetation, attends the same school, which is about to open the time capsule left by Lucinda’s generation. Invariably, Caleb receives Lucinda’s sheet of numbers and soon, his father is fascinated and concerned. Through some remarkable quick-thinking (and Google), John discovers that all of the numbers correspond to a date in history in which a terrible disaster befell some members of the human race – except for some numbers at the end. Then, he discovers that (of course) these events haven’t yet occurred, but will very soon.
The first is a frightening plane crash (stunningly filmed, with ear-shattering sound effects). Next thing you know, John is on the trail of deducing what the numbers mean, in hopes of preventing the future tragedies from occurring. He discovers, along the way, that young Lucinda eventually had a daughter called Diana (Rose Byrne), who has her own dark-eyed, sullen daughter Abby (also played by Robinson). Meanwhile, a mysterious cadre of pale, black-clothed men visits Caleb and Abby – to what purpose?
Alex Proyas is the visionary filmmaker behind such wonders as the terrific graphic novel adaptation The Crow (1994), the stunning sci-fi masterpiece Dark City (1998), the odd but delightful Australian rock comedy Garage Days (2003) and the unfortunate Asimov adaptation turned Will Smith star vehicle I, Robot (2004). Now Proyas returns with a wholly new story, this time returning to the dark, atmospheric visual style of his Dark City (right down to the darkly attired, pale men appearing at various turns in the plot). Some of you might be thinking: Didn’t Cage make this film when he did Lee Tamahori’s Next (2007)? That was a fairly dumb, silly action yarn about a magician who could see two minutes into the future and who got used by the FBI to help discover an evil plot. This is an utterly different style and genre. Get over it.
Cage is in full-on action hero mode playing an “ordinary genius” (of sorts) thrust headlong into terrifying circumstances. He is the sole actor of note here, despite the presence of the lovely Byrne of TV’s Damages.
The film is an exciting, fascinating mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma, resulting in a suggestion that is stunning in its implications. If you want goofy, ridiculous popcorn entertainment – this works. If you want serious debate and thought, this is the ticket.