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.”