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Spoilers for Knowing ahead.
Recently, a particular sci-fi thriller film released roughly a decade ago has enjoyed a renewed wave of interest. This is thanks to its eerily prescient insights into the terror of life in 2020. That film is Knowing. In it, Nicolas Cage stomps around the North Eastern United States trying to thwart a variety of catastrophes. All these catastrophes have been prophesied on a document his son dug up from a time capsule.
Knowing is not a great film. It is a very OK film which is over two hours long, which is worse than a bad film that is under 90 minutes. Cage is as usual charismatic and borderline deranged, despite playing a straight laced role as astrophysics professor John Koestler. His performance brings a manic energy to a film that otherwise ambles along, even as it ratchets up the possibility of a global cataclysm.
Yes, indeed, it turns out that the document’s ultimate prediction is that a gigantic solar flare will incinerate the entire earth. At the time, Knowing was belittled because it was thought impossible for even a colossal solar flare to cause damage on such a scale. Of course, as we now sit isolated in our hastily constructed underground bunkers, waiting for the latest government advice on if it’s possible to protect ourselves from the fire storm, director and producer Alex Proyas has taken the deserved opportunity to gloat. “I am delighted that the world is almost certain to end some time in the very near future,” crowed Proyas in a recent interview. “It is the least humanity deserves for failing to take my very good film Knowing seriously. Back in 2009, people sneered when I claimed we’d given a seemingly ludicrous film ‘as much authenticity as we could,’ but now everyone agrees that if anything, we were too authentic.”
One can only hope that the film’s ending also turns out to be accurate. We pray that the groups of sinister strangers who have been stalking our children recently, and whispering to them at a frequency only they can hear, are actually a race of aliens attempting to rescue the most innocent members of our species and transport them to a new paradise. I mean, I say that, I actually can’t stand children. They’re selfish and emotionally immature. I am also selfish and emotionally immature, but in a different and more worthy way, which means I would be a much better candidate to be saved by the aliens. We can only hope. As it stands though, it seems I, like the rest of adultkind, am doomed to be blown to smithereens by a relentless wall of fire that sweeps the earth and spares nothing. Meanwhile, our progeny will get to cavort around in a lovely golden field, looking all cherubic and blissful. It’s not fair.
But I digress. The point of this article wasn’t meant to be wailing about humanity’s impending doom. The point was to tell you whether it’s worth spending two of the very few hours you have left watching Knowing. And, honestly, maybe? It has its charms. If you’ve read this far you’ve already been told about the film’s destination, but there are elements of the journey that are enjoyable in their own right.
It’s well-acted, with Cage as I alluded to earlier particularly watchable, as he usually is. The child whisperers are very troubling, hovering ominously in the background of shots, steadily inching closer and closer. They’re the strongest example of something that Knowing excels at, which is creepy imagery. The opening sequence, which shows how the prophecy was written and was put in the time capsule in the first place, has many fine examples of this. And there’s also a stand-out section where Cage attempts to rescue people from the wreckage of a plane crash in one relentless, jarring take.
There’s lots of this film that is standard B-movie schlock. Even worse, there’s parts that are pretentious B-movie schlock. Yet there’s plenty that is also better and more thoughtful and ambitious than it needs to be. Even the ending is bold and uncompromising, because while the children do indeed get rescued by the aliens, Cage retreats to his family and is blitzed by the firestorm alongside them. All but like two of Knowing’s characters die horribly. You have to respect that.
Alas, the film is compromised by something I mentioned at the start of the review. Films like this shouldn’t be two hours long. Films like this should be a concise 90 minutes. Knowing would have kicked a colossal amount of arse at 90 minutes. It would have been a weird, inventive, breakneck sci-fi thriller. Instead there’s a lot of Nicolas Cage taking a long time to tease out various clues in the prophecy, all the while looking terribly confused and worried and serious. There’s a set piece where Cage attempts to prevent a derailment on the New York subway which could have been trimmed. Most glaringly, there’s a yawning gap between Cage deducing that a solar flare is about to hit the earth, and the solar flare actually hitting.
This gap is filled with a dull plot strand in which Rose Byrne, playing the daughter of the woman who wrote the prophecy 50 years ago, attempts to take her daughter and Cage’s son to shelter in some caves. Meanwhile, Cage attempts to figure out where the prophecy says they should be going. He could have figured this out immediately, and Knowing would have lost nothing.
If there is one thing I wished we as a species had understood before the apocalypse, it’s that movies should be as concise as possible. Indeed, all art should be as concise as possible. After all, there’s an awful lot of it to consume, and a limited amount of time to consume it in. As it happens, there’s a very limited amount of time to consume it in. I hope you all make the most of what time you have left on earth. I hope you aren’t tempted to join the protesters demanding that we be permitted to leave our underground bunkers to buy lawnmowers and macchiatos. Staying confined underground is the only hope we’ve got, after all. And your lawn won’t cope very well if the earth is on fire anyway. It looks like it’s going to be a long, hot summer. Just not in the way we all hoped.