Knowing (2009)

Knowing opens off with a girl in an elementary school classroom making a picture for the time capsule. But instead of drawing something like the other children, she’s writing down a bunch of (seemingly) random numbers. But she’s interrupted before she can finish, leading to an angry look at her teacher. I guess that paper was important, and we’ll just have to wait until the capsule is opened. Sucks for her!

So that’s what happens. 50 years later, the time capsule is opened at Caleb Koestler’s school. Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) is the son of a college professor named John (Nicolas Cage). No prizes for guessing that Caleb is the one that gets this strange note. He takes it home, despite that being against school rules, where his father finds it. He reads the first few numbers, and realizes that they’re the date of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The next numbers state the number of people killed that day. He continues, searching up the dates on the internet. He discovers that this piece of paper, one written 50 years ago, has correctly predicted the date, location and number of deaths for every major disaster since it was written. Weird.

John discovers that there are 3 events that have yet to occur. The death totals are not all that high, except for the final one, which may be 33, or may actually be “EE”. The “EE” standing for something that the film has to reveal for you, although I guessed what it meant right away, as may some of you as you’re reading this review. John decides that he has to go to the location of each event in order to see if he can prevent it. That goes just about as well as you’d expect.

But to me, that doesn’t make much sense. We see John teaching one of his classes earlier in the film, claiming that he believes that “[stuff] just happens”. He doesn’t believe in things being predetermined, and would seem the type to believe his friend and co-worker, who tells him that people see what they want to believe. Maybe he’s just linking some numbers together and they’re making sense because he’s believing that they are? Or maybe he’s just crazy. Those seem like more valid choices to someone of this mindset.

But let’s assume he truly believes that this piece of paper has predicted the future accurately for 50 years. Why does he assume that he can stop it now? If it is predetermined that all of these events will happen, how can he stop it, and why should he try? The logic of the film is what lost me more than the silly plot. John as a character just doesn’t seem to act like a rational person would, which makes no sense considering the main scene which sets up the way his mind works.

If Knowing would have set him up as a person who often thinks of crazy things, then I could understand him wanting to figure out the mystery of these numbers. But it just doesn’t compute when you take a look at his character, his past experiences, and his beliefs. All of which the film does a good job of building up, only to have them all negated by his actions throughout. It’s like two different people wrote this film, with the first coming up with the back story and the character, while the second decided what he’d do during the film. It simply doesn’t add up to me.

If you’ve seen one of the trailers or commercials for Knowing, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea as to how the finale sets-up. Something is coming to take out a large group of people, and only John is able to (possibly) stop it. The ending comes as a surprise in two parts. Firstly, it finally answers one of the questions we’ve had for most of the film: Who are these weird people in black robes that keep showing up everywhere? Secondly, it is conclusive while not following conventional methods. I didn’t really like the ending, but I can see what it was going for. It was, at the very least, not a cookie-cutter Hollywood ending, so I’ll have to give it points for being somewhat original.

The special effects are really solid, except for in once scene where a plane crashes from the sky and slides across the ground. That’s the only moment that took me out of the film because of mediocre effects. It still wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t on-par with the rest of the film. Most of the time though, the effects alone would almost be enough to captivate me, if only they happened more often. There’s not all that much action in the film that calls for CGI — and no, I’m not saying that is needs more action scenes — but I would have liked to see them show off a bit more.

At least there isn’t a tacked-on love story in this movie. John eventually meets (although it’s more like stalks at the beginning) a woman named Diana (Rose Byrne), who is the daughter of the young girl from 50 years ago. But they don’t end up getting together or even trying to form a relationship. I’m glad that this is how the film approached this, because it would have felt really cheesy to have them fall in love right at the end.

In short, Knowing is a pretty well-made film that suffers from a logical crisis that cripples it. The main character just doesn’t make any sense, which makes the audience question all of his actions. He isn’t consistent, and constantly counters his own beliefs and previous decisions. But the special effects are good, the ending is fairly unique, and there wasn’t a tacked-on love story. It’s definitely a mixed bag, but I didn’t enjoy myself all that much because of the main character not making sense. Overcome that, and it’s a fine film. I couldn’t do that though.

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