Movie Review: Knowing

“What happens when the numbers run out?”

What do you do if you know that a devastating disaster is about to occur and where it will happen? Do you make sure that you are far away from the event so you can be kept safe? Or do you try to warn as many people as you can and even try to be on the scene to aid as many victims as possible? What if there is nothing you can do about it? Does knowing about it make it better because at least then you can prepare? Or would you want to be kept in the dark?

These and many other questions are raised in the latest film starring Nicolas Cage entitled, Knowing, which was made by Alex Proyas, who directed one of my favorite films, I, Robot.

Knowing begins 50 years ago, as a new elementary school is about to bury a time capsule. A classroom assignment has all of the children drawing pictures to put into it depicting what they think the future will look like. One oddity is a little girl, Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), who is inexplicably writing what appears to be random numbers on her paper, which also gets placed into the capsule.

Fast forward 50 years, we see the time capsule opened and Lucinda’s strange paper with the numbers on it finds it’s way into the hands of Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), the son of John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). John takes the paper, and in a surprisingly easy turn of events discovers that the numbers are the dates when a disaster occurred, how many people died and where they happened. What’s disturbing, though, is that the last three dates on the list are in the very near future.

Armed with this knowledge, John has the overwhelming dilemma of what to do with it. How hard should he try to convince people of its truth? Should he warn the people where the disasters are about to occur? Is there any way to stop them?

What follows is a movie filled with mystery and tense, edge of your seat suspense. I had my cell phone in my shirt pocked and jumped in my seat at one point when it vibrated with an email during a suspenseful scene. There were times when the feel of the movie goes from disaster film, to horror flick, but all of it is engaging and, for me, very satisfying.

Since the date of 9/11/01 is the catalyst for John’s deciphering of the numbers, I can’t help but think about the impact that tragic day has had on my ability to watch movies like this.

I remember sitting in the theater in 1996 watching the Will Smith blockbuster Independence Day and being in awe as the alien ships destroyed the cities and important landmarks. I remember being rather charged up by the intensity of it all and then the satisfaction of payback that the rest of the movie brought.

But now, I have a hard time watching that movie. Partly because there are many parts that I’ve come to regard as just plain goofy, but mostly because of the reality of what such destruction can bring which was tragically brought to light when terrorists brought down the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001. I remember the devastation caused by such a sudden and real loss of life and I haven’t been able to watch so-called “disaster movies” with the same air of entertainment since. Before 9/11, occurrences like that were pure fantasy, but now we know that things like that can really happen, and we know the heavy cost that events like that have on our psyche and society.

With all of this in mind, let me say that this movie is not for the faint of heart. There are small, personal dangers that our characters have to deal with, but there are also global crises that loom ever more ominously as the last few dates on the list come and go. Much of what we see in the disaster scenes is very realistic and disturbing to see, but I never felt like it was gratuitous—often those events are also realistically accompanied by acts of heroism and selflessness.

Make no mistake, though, Knowingis definitely Science Fiction and is a metaphor that will be colored by your own religious or philosophical beliefs, but I would suggest that everyone see this movie if for no other reason than to start yourself considering some of these dilemmas for yourself. I will not provide any of my own interpretations in this review because I believe that would detract from your own experience with this movie.

One message that I did get out of this movie that I will share, though, is that no matter how tragic the situation is that we find ourselves in, if we can somehow find hope, that will make the outcome so much easier to bear.
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