WARNING: This column contains details alluding to the ending of Knowing. Read at your own risk.
I went to the movies as a general audience member for the first time since I caught Vicky Cristina Barcelona last August. The movie that got my money was Summit’s Knowing from director Alex Proyas. As someone that enjoys such Proyas films as The Crow and Dark City it was hard to skip the Knowing screening for Universal’s Duplicity three weeks ago, but at the time I thought one review would be read by more people than the other — how wrong I was.
Ever since the announcement of Knowing there seemed to be little-to-no interest by the online movie community and perhaps there still isn’t and this article won’t be read either. But the film has gone on to make since its March 20 release, which tells me someone is paying to see it and word of mouth must be pretty good. Either that or a solid copy hasn’t leaked online yet.
As for why I wanted to see it, it didn’t necessarily have to do with positive word of mouth as much as it had to do with the disparity in reviews and opinions regarding its quality. For example, Roger Ebert gave it four stars saying Knowing “is among the best science-fiction films I’ve seen — frightening, suspenseful, intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome.”
A.O. Scott of the “New York Times” disagrees saying, “The draggy, lurching two hours of Knowing will make you long for the end of the world…”
What could possibly be so polarizing about a film that looked like it was some sort of end-of-the-world feature in which the world doesn’t actually end up destroyed as Nic Cage saves the day by solving a number riddle?
Back in December of 2008 I thought I had it all figured out when a teaser to my reporting of the latest trailer for Knowing read, “Once again we ask you just let humanity end…” I followed that up with a paragraph reading:
Either Proyas is going to deliver one of the first disaster flicks where the father makes a promise to his son that ultimately ends up being a lie or Caleb is sure to survive whatever atrocities the prophecies of Knowing have to offer. Now I will say one thing, should Proyas decide this little rugrat is going to die along with The Cage then we have a sure fire kick ass sci-fi thriller on our hands. Chances, however, are pretty dim.
Thankfully, Proyas lived up to his reputation and things weren’t as they seemed. This isn’t to say Knowing is in fact a “kick ass sci-fi thriller.” On a grading scale I would probably give it a “B”, but if I were to grade the concept alone it would definitely earn an “A”.
Outside of the review snippets mentioned above, I actually hadn’t read any reviews or commentary in their entirety before heading to the theater, the only plot details I knew where those revealed in the trailers and the faint whispers regarding the ending having something to do with aliens. Fortunately, knowing the alien aspect of it threw me off quite a bit and had me dismissing any idea other than alien invasion, abduction or something along those lines.
This meant once the parallels Knowing draws to religion and science by bringing Ezekiel’s vision (pictured right) to the big screen is tremendous. You can dig even deeper into it looking at fate, randomness and determinism and whether one affects the other and if so how? It is excellent material and had it starred anyone other than Nicolas Cage I think it would have received far better marks from critics all while it continues to draw in audiences after bringing in an additional $8.3 million this past weekend.
Most impressive is how Knowing leaves things wide open for interpretation. Even if you come up with a theory explaining everything, you still can’t be certain you are right. While using a story from the Bible as its source material, Knowing gives faint indications to the existence of angels all while touching upon the story of Adam and Eve yet never completely answering the big question. Just who/what were the Whisper people?
As for the Cage factor, I am constantly surprised any time a director gives him work. He has had his moments in the past, but those were moments calling for his style of overacting. I even hesitate to call it overacting as it may just be a case of not acting. There is a scene in this film where Cage takes a Louisville Slugger to a tree and yells into the woods. It is cringe worthy above laughable.
Roger Ebert recently questioned why the reviews for the film were so negative and went on to defend Cage as a good actor, to which I obviously disagree, but I am with him in wondering why critics didn’t like the ending. I doubt there is a single critic out there that didn’t “get” the ending, which makes me wonder just what the problem was. Ebert speculates the fact it was about religion was an instant turn-off, while films like that instantly get me interested.
Unlike Ebert I won’t say Knowing was “among the best science-fiction films I’ve seen,” but it is damn good and it raises questions you can walk out of the theater with and discuss. Outside of Cage’s performance I thought the film was rather solid. Perhaps critics didn’t like how straight-forward the plot was, but I think if they tried to look a bit deeper it does get quite intricate and raises questions people have been asking for years all while offering up an additional spin on it all.