>> Some Thoughts on Knowing

KnowingConcerning the new Nicolas Cage thriller Knowing, Roger Ebert said, “Knowing is among the best science-fiction films I’ve seen — frightening, suspenseful, intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome.”  He gave the film a four-star review.

But what are the majority of other critics saying?

Knowing starts off mildly ridiculous, ascends to the full-blown ludicrous, and finally sails boldly off the edge of the absolutely preposterous.”–Ty Burr, The Boston Globe.

“The draggy, lurching two hours of Knowing will make you long for the end of the world, even as you worry that there will not be time for all your questions to be answered.”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times.

Knowing is a hilarious movie.”–Russ Fischer, CHUD.

One national critic (and one friend of mine) called the film an early contender for worst film of the year.  I’m guessing these two people didn’t sit through Miss March, and I envy them for that.  It’s disconcerting when so many people hate a film that you really like.  It not only calls your personal judgment into question, but your sanity as well.  “Am I crazy for liking Knowing?”

The truth is that when the lights came up in the theatre, and the credits started to roll, I still wasn’t sure what I saw was a good movie.  What I admired most, immediately as the film came to a close, were the guts the film had–the willingness to take a chance and play out an ending that I couldn’t have expected, in any way whatsoever.  As a few days have passed, I’ve decided that I need to see it again (I rarely see a movie twice in the theatre), and I do think it’s a worthwhile movie.  Overall, I was entertained and surprised, and, honestly, Knowing contains some of the most unforgettable special effect images ever committed to film.  Sometimes it does feel like a bad movie with a lot of fantastic moments, but, to me, these things sort of level out and make the movie defineable as good.  I certainly didn’t feel like I had wasted my time.

I can agree that Nic Cage’s performance  is little beyond serviceable.  Cage, esepcially in his recent work, comes in only two settings–eccentric or mopey.  He’s in mopey mode here.  I think part of people’s dissatisfaction with Knowing is a knee-jerk reaction to the casting of Cage.  I almost feel like you could take the exact same film and replace him with Will Smith or John Cusack or somebody that people usually like and you would not see people responding as negatively as they are to this movie.  (And if this is true, then it’s beyond time that Nicolas Cage do some damage control to his own career.)

The film isn’t particularly well-written, despite its big ideas.  Characters speak in expository dialogue in almost every scene, the movie has a tenuous grasp on logic that is only salvaged by the movie’s Calvinist themes of predestination, and then there’s the stuff that feels like cliche, like Cage’s sign language lovey-dovey phrase he shares with his son.  Also, the script doesn’t make enough of a big deal out of Cage’s (lack of) personal faith, which directly affects the emotional impact of the film’s ending.

Despite these criticisms, I thought the movie was almost great.  It was like watching a crappy high school basketball team win a stunning victory over the state champs.  I never expected it to excite me, so when it did, I found myself way more excited than I normally would be.  I can understand every bit of criticism against Knowing, but, for me, it worked.  It has a third act that seems to divide people into love-it or hate-it camps, but I went along with it, once the film moved beyond a doomsday thriller into something more science-fiction and philosophical.

I don’t think I’m crazy.  Some films just work better for some than they do for others.  You may have found Knowing to be a dopey, dour mish-mash of spirituality and sci-fi, but I found it to be ominous, thought-provoking, and, in many ways, unforgettable.  Po-tay-to, po-tot-o.

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9 Comments

  1. OK, I agree with some of your thoughts, and I really did want to like the film. I went in with a history of hating Nick Cage in almost every role he’s done. I just think he’s a sucky actor. That said, I can’t say anyone else could have made a difference with this TERRIBLE script.

    The movie starts out as disaster porn, and would excel if they’d stuck with that theme. The f/x are really worth the price of admission, especially the plane crash that just comes out of nowhere. (unfortunately, they blew their wad on the subway accident in the trailers) My problems with the script come in the absolutely insane way the characters act. Every choice they make is absurd, right up to the very end, where he finally gets the answer he’s been looking for, he KNOWS the answer and that religion isn’t real (trying not to be too spoilerish here) but he turns around and seems to find God in that.

    ***spoiler warning. Everything after this is spoilerous***

    When he wakes up the next morning in the rain, I thought they could have redeemed the script, if it had turned out the aliens were just trying to take kids and the world HAD NOT ended… then you have a truly horrifying film… and one that Cage just couldn’t act. He was having a hard enough time dealing with a dead wife, but to think he’d been fooled by aliens who were just trying to trick people into voluntarily giving up their kids? MUCH cooler ending, IMO.

    As it stands, here are some niggling little things that just piss me off:
    1) Why is it the ‘angels’ only want to save kids with latent psychic abilities?
    2) If Diana’s mother can see the way everyone dies, why didn’t she foresee her own death from the overdose?
    3) What importance were the little rocks?
    4) Starting the list with 9/11 was just too blatantly obvious, was a stupid way to pull the audiences strings playing on 9/11 fears, and it was just *painful* watching him trying to figure out what was OBVIOUS to anyone who’s lived on the planet for the last 8 years.
    5) The aforementioned sign-language gimmick. This guy doesn’t ever seem really close to his kid, there’s no emotional connection between the audience and the characters. You feel closer to Diane, and her death is more shocking than anything that ever happens to Cage.
    6) The guy he chased onto the subway with the stolen DVDs was the first one to die in the crash. He never showed a hint of remorse over that, even though the guy would probably have lived if not for that. He never stopped to think about the consequences of his actions.
    7) He sees the aliens. They take his kid off in their spaceship, and he finds religion, even though it’s clearly NOT God. There’s no evidence to lead him to believe in an afterlife, but he just decides it’s a good idea at the very end of the movie.
    8) My problem with this as a science fiction movie is not so much what it WAS, as what it COULD HAVE BEEN. These aliens COULD have been manipulating events to CAUSE these disasters to happen. They COULD have been trying to scare people just to get them to willingly give up their most gifted children. They COULD have been faking the oncoming solar disaster by jamming cell phones and such to hide their departure in their ships. INSTEAD, these all-knowing angels give the message about the end of the world to a tortured little girl who they know will cause that message to be buried for 50 years so that the world receives it with 2 days’ notice? What an absurd load of CRAP! The problems with this script are that it’s so completely contrived that you don’t have to just suspend a little disbelief, you have to completely suspend ALL LOGIC in order to enjoy the end of it.

  2. Debate about the entertainment value of this movie all you want and once again no one in Hollywood (writers, producers, actors, directors) gets the very inconvenient fact that movies are the biggest perpetrators of perpetuating sublimal disparaging stereotypes ever known to man. How freakin insensitive can Hollywood get if one day after Obama trips on his face over the Special Olympics epithet, the movie ‘Knowing’ opens to #1 and its whole premise is based on God’s angels coming to save humankind be ‘choosing’ the smart, good looking, not retarded, not handicapped, heterosexual, middleclass boy and girl as the only ones being worthy to get a chance to start over civilization?

  3. I am sick of hollywood trying to downplay the End of Days with their movies trying to make it anything but GOD it is real and it is happening now if you don’t believe pick up a Bible and read Revelations for starters as for Gloop’s comment about them only having the warning for 2 days being rediculous GOD has warned mankind of the End of Days for over 2000 years through the Bible and how many refuse to believe so I don’t think timing would make a difference one way or the other.

  4. To Steve: The boy was handicapped–he was hearing-impaired. I don’t think you saw the movie. 😛

    To Sparks: While I completely understand where you’re coming from, the movie is in no way Bible-based and I honestly never expected it to be.

  5. To Gloop: Most of your criticisms are explained away by the fact that everything is pre-determined. EVERYTHING. As for the rock, they appeared to be some sort of listening device. No, they aren’t explained very well.

    As for the story, the plot wasn’t about alien abductions, so it didn’t bother me that the movie forged its own path. You’re talking about a completely different film than KNOWING once you start talking about what the actual plot should have been.

  6. To Sparks: It’s called science fiction for a reason.
    Also, God does not give us dates, locations, and number of deaths in the bible letting us know every major disaster that occurs over fifty years. If I had that information handy I would believe it, as the characters in the film do. Where in Revelations does it give a date in the modern world’s calendar as to being the end of the world? If the Bible contained pages of proof of things that hadn’t happened yet I’m sure you’d see millions more believers.

    To Gloop: 1. I’m not so sure they’re chosen because they have psychic abilities so much as they have psychic abilities because they’re chosen.

    2. The movie never says they can foresee the future, they just hear voices. The only vision they all seem to share is the end of everything. However, if they can foresee the future (which the movie doesn’t exactly say) there’s no telling that the woman does not see her own overdose. This whole film being logical to the rules of predetermination it wouldn’t matter if she did or did not see her own death, as she would die anyway.

    3. I think they were just symbolic of someone being chosen. But, yes the movie does not explain this.

    4. I’m assuming you mean starting the copying of the list with 9/11 as a bad idea. Honestly, I think they started with that for the same reason you think it was painful to see Cage research it. It’s a date that he (and everyone else) would easily recognize. His online research on 9/11 seemed more about finding the signfiicance of the numbers that followed the date, and not so much the finding out what happened on that date.

    5. This is also my main, and almost only gripe with the movie. It’s the missing piece that SIGNS has that this film lacks and I think it’s because there’s more a focus on the events than the human story, unlike SIGNS. This also ties in to filmcans’ complaint about there not being enough material on Cage’s character’s lack of faith, which is why the scene with him at the end lacks real emotion.

    6. His actions were not his own. That man was going to die because Cage was going to chase him down. As Filmcans pointed out earlier this is just a law of predetermination. We have no control over what we do, therefore no remorse over the consequences.

    7. This is where I think what I think about the end might piss off people that have a strong belief in the afterlife and heaven. I don’t think Cage finds religion. I think he tells his son what he does out of comfort, so that his son can continue to believe that they will all be reunited later. While the ideas in the film may be anti-religion in saying that it’s essentially fake, I think it also argues that religion, or a belief in an afterlife is a necessity to human happiness. I think the “angels” also understood this as they told the little girl that her Mother had gone to a safe place.
    In fact, what the film seems to impose is that religion was born out of a more advanced species telling us that there was life after death, as it’s pivotal to our existence to believe it as a possibility, if not a probability.

    The more I reflect on the film, the more I fall in love with it. While I feel like the film lacks any real kind of emotional pull, it’s hard for me to outright fault it because of the script’s obsession to move the plot forward. I think it does about as good as it can to build a relationship between Cage and his son considering the focus of the story is not on their relationship. I think the film suffers slightly from an attempt to include it, when it may have serviced better if it were wanting to be as cold and distant as a Stanley Kubrick film. Despite that, I can honestly say that it’s the most enjoyable time I’ve had at the theater this year, thus far.

  7. 1. I saw the movie and paid for it unlike you probably.
    2. Since when is hearing impairment a handicap? My ears ring all the time – I think it’s called tinnitus. I don’t consider myself handicapped. Ever hear (no pun intended) of hearing aids?
    3. So you say the boy had trouble hearing – I’ll take your word for it. I certainly don’t remember it – shows how little it mattered to the plot and irrelevant it was to the bigger subliminal message. Point is 99% of Hollywood pumps out stereotypes for the sake of entertainment and profits – admit it!

  8. Steve:

    1. I paid the second time I saw it.
    2. Hearing impairment is a handicap. It’s certainly not a benefit.
    3. I agree, the hearing thing was almost completely irrelevant. They only used it so that the boy couldn’t understand what the “whisper people” were saying to him. As for some social message, to address your earlier point, no I never did expect the aliens to select a homely, gay, retarded, rich kid, so I guess your point is actually 100% valid.

  9. Steve:

    Seriously, I understand the point you’re trying to make concerning whitebread movie-making that doesn’t acknowledge the differences in our culture, but the point really feels wasted on a sci-fi B-movie like Knowing.


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