Having just seen Knowing, the film starring Nicholas Cage as a man who’s been given a sheet of numbers predicting every accident that will happen, I’m having a hard time with Ebert’s review. Ebert gave it four stars. I would give it two.
It is a movie about whether events in life are random or predetermined and wants to be a movie about what you would do if you knew the end of the world was happening.
If you want to see the answer to that, go watch Deep Impact–a better film.
Knowing doesn’t uncover the “end of the world” plot until late in the movie. This movie is about whether all events are preordained. And should a coded sheet of these events fall into our hands–does it indicate that higher forces are communicating with mankind–revealing these accidents? But alas, it’s not to actually change them. The list is stuck in a vault for fifty years. What’s the point of revealing numbers only to hide them away? Nicholas Cage would have us believe it is to give those numbers to his son, fifty years later. For what reason–there is no reason. Since Cage cannot do anything to affect or change the events, the paper communicates nothing but “proof” that someone knew what would happen.
Knowing is saddled with a predetermined plot too. The characters only talk about the plot; when they arrive in a scene, they say only what needs to be said to move the plot along, which I always find hard to believe. When the sister enters the movie, her reason to be there is to tell us that Cage is estranged from the family, to establish that he is running from religion, to emphasize that the family is worried. The writers even realize that there is no real interaction in this scene because they have her tell Cage that he didn’t even ask “how are you? How’s your week been?” before telling her to leave. The characters know it is an awkward scene. All of the scenes are like this–leaping from plot point to plot point.
The revelation that the numbers are actually dates is so unnatural as to be funny. It doesn’t happen because he actually strives to figure them out–he is drunk, it’s an “accident.” This plot is so much about determinism that it tries to get away with unbelievable coincidence. The author can always say–“Well, that was my point!” But that’s just bad writing. If you need coincidence that badly, then your characters are just puppets.
Cage is a morose father, drinking himself into a stupor every night. He’s supposed to be a MIT astrophysicist. Man, where did they get this classroom? That’s MIT?? It’s small. Only twenty students are there, most look around high school age. It’s supposedly his first lecture of the year–it’s completely philosophical, cosmological, lasts for ten minutes or less, with brilliant students who repeat back knowledge to the professor, and then our brilliant professor blanks when he’s talking about whether the world is random or not, and dismisses class. I never believed him as a professor. And I didn’t believe that was MIT, or any other university.
The worst foreshadowing happens here–when he takes up the models of planets and talks about them.
SPOILER: Cage is supposed to have worked on solar flares, was an expert in the field–but he doesn’t work on them now? He doesn’t mention this fact till the end of the film, when it becomes important. But one would suspect that the scientists who have already discovered that a major solar flare is coming would want to consult with the man who has solar flare knowledge.
This movie is full of Christian references to the inevitability of mankind’s destruction. You are sledgehammered over the head with it at times. Cage as prodigal son, makes the predictable return to his pastor/father. There’s even a convenient Christian message scrawled on a van in the last sequence–so that during watching destruction you might make a decision. The kids are taken in a “rapture” which makes angels look like a$$holes because they wouldn’t take Cage with them and save him too, or anyone else in those huge ships of theirs.
Take away the thin veil of science fiction and this is mere theology. Down to the “new adam and eve” and “tree of life” in the last frame… a very tired science fiction ending (we’ve seen it so much that On Spec and other sci-fi magazines reject all stories with “adam and eve” endings). Those people left behind are riotous and murderous, not many shown as kind; as destruction swoops down, you are made to think we are all sinners, murderous thieves. The writers have stacked the deck–giving us no choice on how to read the plot. Nobody really has a believable choice. That may be honest theology, or philosophy–but it doesn’t make a good movie.