Knowing

There are three ways to look at Knowing. For one, you could look at Knowing as another work from Nicolas Cage's "I've gone completely insane" period. In this movie Cage plays an M.I.T. scientist who stumbles on a sheet of numbers that have been recently unearthed from a time capsule. He figures out that the numbers have successfully predicted every major disaster in the preceding five decades, and that they are predicting the end of the world by the end of the week. It's a kooky premise, and it does allow Cage to yell dialogue like "WE HAVE TO GO WHERE THE NUMBERS TELL US", but Knowing doesn't really have the over the top goofiness that marks so much of Cage's latter day output. For the most part, Knowing is trying to be somber, and most of the film's run time is devoted to puzzle solving, not ridiculous fight scenes, so it's likely to disappoint people that are looking for another shitshow like the Wicker Man.

A second possible approach to Knowing is to see it as a philosophical exploration of determinism vs. randomness. The movie sets up that theme early on with a scene in Nicolas Cage's classroom, and as the film's clockwork plot ticks closer to zero, it comes leans pretty heavily towards determinism. But this angle on the movie is also unsuccessful for the same reason that Ayn Rand's pro-capitalist fiction fails: because it's argument is placed inside a fictional story. Of course if you get to manipulate the set up in a made up story you can produce the desired outcome, but the truth is that conditions in the real world are considerably more murky than these stories allow for. If you could produce a prophetic number sheet or conclusively prove that all socialists are incompetent monsters, then sure, I would find those arguments persuasive, but in that case the data would be doing the proving, not the speculative stories that pre-dated the data.

The third way to look at Knowing is as a mystery box that slowly unfolds. On that level, the film is not unsuccessful. If that sounds like a measured compliment - well, it is. The film starts as a science fiction movie, but as we learn more about the meaning of the numbers more religious elements come to the fore. Those allusions will resonate with some people more than with others; in general I get frustrated with religious parables because they tend to emphasize mystery and steer clear of giving actual explanations, and the suggestion that we should just accept this unlikely scenario on faith is kind of galling to me. Still, the film's lack of any definitive answers didn't completely ruin my movie watching experience, because I understand the symbolism of what it's trying to say. And anyway, the story builds towards it's Rapturous conclusion in a reasonably logical way, even if it does go off the deep end towards the finale.

When you combine those three perspectives you get a weird portrait. It's not crazy enough to be prime Cage; it's not logical enough to be a solid philosophical argument; it's too sci-fi to be a good religious movie and it is too religious to be a good sci-fi movie. But somehow I find that mixture of tones to be oddly compelling. From the moment it starts, it's a jumble of good and bad ideas, executed in an intermittently competent way, but still, it somehow manages to consistently seem like it's just about to become impressive without ever quite getting there. Wait a minute... jumbled, semi-competent, kind of sort of - I take it back. No, this is definitely prime Cage.

Winner: Draw

Knowing on IMDB