Directed by: Alex Proyas
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson
I’m not sure that I really consider Knowing to be a proper disaster movie, but since it’s been discussed as such by several reviewers I guess I ought to mention it nevertheless. My reason for excluding it from the disaster movie genre would be that Knowing is a supernatural thriller, and I feel that a disaster flick should primarily deal with real world phenomena (even if these are presented in a preposterous way).
Knowing begins with a prologue set in the 1950’s: students at an elementary school draw their visions of the future and bury the drawings in a time capsule. One of the students, a brooding girl named Lucinda, fills her paper with rows of seemingly random numbers.
Fifty years later the capsule is excavated and Lucinda’s numbers find their way to John, an astrophysicist at MIT whose son Caleb goes to the same school as Lucinda did. John discovers that there is a pattern to the numbers: they are dates and positional coordinates for every major disaster during the past 50 years. Apparently Lucinda could predict the future. And now only three dates remain…
As John wrestles with the implications of his discovery – and tries to stop what’s coming – mysterious white-haired strangers appear and seem to take an interest in Caleb. John makes contact with Lucinda’s daughter and grand-daughter, and realizes the full significance of the last date on Lucinda’s paper…
Not only is this a paranormal thriller, but there are elements in it which could easily be interpreted as clearly religious even if they are given a science fiction dress-up. As one reviewer wrote, this might be as close as we get to a big budget Christian apocalypse movie made by Hollywood. (And apocalypse movies are related to disaster movies, so I guess Knowing may have a place on this blog after all. I suppose I’ll have to sort this definition thing out in a separate post one of these days.)
But as a disaster movie it doesn’t succeed very well. The film is exceedingly dark and somber, and largely consists of Niclas Cage sitting around looking depressed or running around (still looking depressed). There are some discussion of predestination versus randomness as the governing principle of the universe, but this seems mainly to serve as an excuse to get scientist John to abandon his atheistic ways and make up with his Christian minister father.
Director Alex Proyas does serve up a couple of interesting disaster scenes, where a well executed plane crash is the pièce-de-résistance and actually makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing. A subway crash is suprprisingly bloodthirsty for a movie with this kind of message at its core, with unfortunate people splattered against windshields like bugs. There is also a nice sequence which brings movies like Armageddon to mind.
As a whole, though, Knowing doesn’t really satisfy. It’s so glum it almost turns into self-parody when Nicolas Cage and son walk around looking miserable all the time. The story starts out promising enough but turns into a mess, where any sense of mystery and/or wonder is eradicated by the metaphysical overkill of the kitsch finale.