If the future was bleak and the apocalypse was coming at you like a freight train, would you want to know? How would you know? Would you get an obvious message like a government report about a meteor? Some divine message? A secret message, encoded only for you? Would you prefer to remain blissfully unaware and let fate take its course? What do you want to know? What don’t you want to know?
Let’s translate that to movies: Do you want to know the genre of a film before you watch it? What if the genre itself could be construed as a spoiler? This was the problem, or the best feature–depending on your point of view–of last year’s sleeper Midnight Special. Through a fairly heart-pounding, blood-pumping few hours, moviegoers could only guess, but did not know for certain, the complete genre spectrum of the movie, until the very end. That’s a heckuva feat. The result: Midnight Special was one of the best films of last year in any category (don’t click here if you don’t want to see that genre and how we at borg.com rated it). The flipside of not knowing what genre you’re watching can be found in the 2009 film Knowing, one of many films that opt to deliver a special message of some sort of impending future peril via secret message, and one of the few that holds back on the very nature of the genre until the end of the film.
The remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Fifth Element, The Number 23, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Day After Tomorrow, Unbreakable, The Game–all have something in common with Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, I, Robot), and starring Nicolas Cage as a father whose son receives a letter from a 50-year-old time capsule that includes nothing but numbers–numbers that we learn early in the film are the precise dates of future, major Earth disasters. And as the boy receives the letter a few dates remain on the list that haven’t yet arrived. We saw interesting forms of messages about the future in the Final Destination series, Donnie Darko, Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau, and Butterfly Effect. Knowing doesn’t catch up to any of these movies, but it’s an interesting study in writing stories that tease genres and toy with viewers’ imaginations about what is real or potential as to the subject of “the future.”
As for Nicolas Cage films, chalk this one up next to the similarly themed Next, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, or his remake of The Wicker Man. For all the films Cage stars in, he is an actor who can convey passion and sincerity with his characters, despite a script that may not be up to his efforts. At points Knowing is compelling, even fun, and each time it is because we believe Cage’s character believes. X-Men franchise actress Rose Byrne is also captivating as a character close to the backstory of the numbers. Unfortunately Knowing’s efforts to hide too much of what is going on leaves the viewer exhausted. Is it a religious morality tale? Is it pure science fiction? Horror? Is it pure fantasy? Is it a story about magic? Just another disaster movie? Is the antagonist the devil? God? Aliens? Ancients? Ghosts? Angels? Something entirely different? Knowing doesn’t seem to know–or wants to be everything–and ultimately where it chooses to land is a place we viewers may not want to be at film’s end. It goes without saying this means the ending is not predictable, and to director Alex Proyas’ credit the ending was a brave choice.
Knowing ends up only as a recommended film for diehard Nicolas Cage fans. It also may appeal to those who enjoy films that toy with genres, secret messages, and time and space. It is streaming now as a recommended selection on Netflix.