Sunday, August 09, 2009


Erin and I watched Knowing, yet another weird chunk in Nicholas Cages’ motley career. I guess it is good that he isn’t stuck just doing important Hollywood dramas—yawn—but he doesn’t seem to need his chops so much in flicks like this, tho it is not a lame movie. He is not glamourous and he is not athletic, yet he has been doing roles of that sort. Maybe it’s fun doing these movies. And he still gets paid.

Knowing resembles Signs, and several other movies, scifi and horror, sort of, with some pretension. Cage plays a droopy father who recently lost his wife. And he no longer sees purpose in life. And, hey, his father is a man of the cloth, from whom Cage is now detached. Where might this lead?

Actually, the movie starts with a girl. The opening caption reads Lexington, MA, 1959. I grew up in Lexington! It is possible that the William Dawes Elementary in the film is what I knew as Adams School. Cannot swear to this. I do know that a Thai restaurant in the next town over has a picture of Cage standing with the restaurant owner, the price of a comp meal. This suggests that Cage was in the area, but we have not yet established probable cause…

Anyway, the aforementioned girl starts maniacally writing numbers on paper instead of drawing pictures of the future for a soon to be buried time capsule. When later dug up, 50 years later, that sheet of numbers goes to Cage’s somewhat strange son. And so the plot ensues.

Cage, an MIT prof, discovers that the numbers are the dates and casualty totals of disasters that have happened, with two more disasters to go. Cage has to convince people…

Thankfully, that meme was not pressed on too hard. We rollick into the chase to find out the secret to all this. Things fall into place.

Perhaps the best moment in the movie, Cage is on I-95, stuck in traffic. He leaves his car to investigate. Suddenly, an airliner is seen swerving down and crashing up ahead on the highway. This is shockingly vivid. Cage dashes into the wreckage to help. It is a compelling, dreamlike scene.

Later, he tries to thwart a disaster in NYC. He thinks at first that it is a terrorist attack, and chases down a petty thief who he misconstrues as a suicide bomber. Despite excellent times in the 400 metre spring for both of them, the true disaster proves to be a subway derailing, which resulted in some flimsy looking cgi and a lot of noise. Whereas the airliner was vivid in its destruction, the subway looked fuzzy and insubstantial. Playing the cgi game, you have to give the goods. Second rate cgi is third rate.

Well anyway, of course Cage joins forces with the daughter of the girl at William Dawes. Her mother died recently, a strange and troubled woman. This woman’s own daughter is also strange, like Cage’s son.

In their desperate race against time® the children are confronted by speechless beings, human in form, who sort of stalk the children and communicate with them telepathically, in sibilant whispers for us in the audience. These parts are really chilling. It is like in 50s movies, where things seem lame and yet. The beings do nothing, really, but it is spooky. Okay, in one scene, Cage, seemingly a world class runner at 400m, chases after one of these beings. He confronts the being, who turns and opens his mouth. Blinding light pours from his mouth, and before Cage gets his sight back, the being has sauntered off.

In a hurry, Cage intuits from a picture in the home of the deceased mother that the point of all the warnings is that the sun was about to deliver the ultimate (at least for Earth) solar flare. The picture depicted a prophecy of Ezekiel, and I do not know how he made this most excellent of leaps.

Here we tumble into what seems like a whole other movie. The beings spirit away the children to start a new beginning. Cage is not allowed to join them. The mother of the girl had already died, as predicted by her mother. We get an homage to Close Encounters, in which we see the spaceship in full cinematic effect. Cocoon did this same homage. Cage returns to his family, and whoosh, life on earth is indeed destroyed. At the end, we see the two children on an Edenic planet. The End.

The last part of the movie is also something of an homage to When World’s Collide, by way of Roland Emmerich’s enthusiasm to show vast destruction (yes, you are right, Emmerich should do a remake of WWC). Alas, for all the local flavour at the beginning of the movie, what we witness at the end is the generic destruction of New York. To see Boston go up in flames would have been different. Anyway, the very end of When World’s Collide, when the survivours of Earth‘s destruction see the new world, what they see is a big technicolour cartoon. The two children in Knowing get a similar rendering of reality.

Knowing isn’t great, but it had its chilling, disturbing moments. It lacks the humour and interplay of Signs, but when it actually fried everyone except the two children, it showed a surprising willingness to get the job done. It is odd that the aliens could manage only the two children and two inexplicable rabbits. If they are going to go to the trouble, you would think they would want to increase their odds a bit. But there you are.

And there Cage is. He does not really work up a sweat, except during those 400 metre sprints. Everyone else in the movie is competent but uninflected. It is a Nicholas Cage movie, yet he is required to just be forlorn, puzzled, and desperately seeking answers, which does not make for a real vehicle for his or anyone’s wares. I wonder if anyone else liked this movie.

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