The Caves Won't Save You!!!
Ever since seeing the trailer for the Nicolas Cage numerology-apocalypse film Knowing, I was intrigued, patiently biding my time until such a date when it was on DVD, and no one else was around to make me ashamed of my indulgence in such crap. Just where would this film rank on the Nicolas Cage Spectrum of awfulness? Much like the hook of the movie, where a sequence of numbers predicts the dates, deaths tolls and locations of every major disaster of the last fifty years, I wondered whether this would be an atrocity on par with Wicker Man, a Sri Lankan tsunami, or Bangkok Dangerous? Or would it be merely another National Treasure or tour bus collision? I can safely say that the first hour or so is a relatively engaging and competently directed sci-fi thriller, which then becomes somewhat baffling and silly, with a few good Cage freak-outs. So overall, kind of disappointing, but Dear Readers nothing could have prepared me for how jaw-droppingly absurd and actually sickening the last ten minutes or so of this movie was. When this movie ended my only possible explanation for what had taken place was that The Church of Latter Day Saints must have had a significant level of involvement in the script and production.
So What Was the Plot?
If you've seen the trailer you already know the basics: numbers buried in time capsule, end of the world, etc. But we have Nicolas Cage as just your typical jaded, alcoholic, MIT astrophysics professor who has of course lost his faith following the death of his angelic wife in a hotel fire. He is stuck being an over-protective, asshole, single dad, struggling to raise his semi-deaf son. We see a mournful junior pouring over family videos of Mom tucking him in and just once I wanted to see a movie where the death of a mommy isn't grounds for canonization. The skeptical and secular, Cage tells his kid that "we can't be sure" if God or heaven really exist, and in a class lecture he sets up the dichotomy between a deterministic universe and one ruled by random chance and mutation...you know, the one we actually live in, where "shit just happens." So before the doom-digits are discovered by his kid and the plot gets rolling, the filmmakers telegraph the ole' reliable clash between, life is random and devoid of any inherent meaning vs. everything matters and is part of one grand and glorious narrative, gee I wonder which side will win out by the end? Since Knowing is your standard studio fare, anyone can guess, but I still wasn't prepared for just how far it would swing towards the latter. In case I needed anymore proof of where this movie was headed, we later find out that Cage is estranged from his father...the Pentecostal pastor.
During one of his drunken stupors Cage discovers that the numbers reveal the date and death toll of 9/11 and a few dates that haven't happened yet, including a fairly impressive plane crash where we get a few dozen people running around on fire, and a subway crash in lower Manhattan which also rather gratuitously apes 9/11. Here we begin our path of character development from educated and rational scientist to snake-handling doom-sayer.
People covered in burning jet fuel and being mowed down by a runaway subway-car was pretty good disaster porn, but they didn't compare to the Moose on fire.
Yes, a Moose on fire, here it is...
In probably my favorite scene, Cage's son is given a prophetic vision by one of the "Whisper People" of an entire forest of full of furry critters on fire.
Oh, yes I forgot to mention the presence of a group of sinister, mute, Albinos, who look a lot like a late 70s David Bowie during his Nazi phase, who stand outside of Cage's house and leave a bunch of shiny black pebbles as their calling card. Basically, these Ziggy Stardust mu'fuckas lurk around, shoot blinding light out of their mouths, and telepathically "whisper" cryptic things to children like Cage Jr. and the granddaughter of the disturbed little girl who wrote down the numbers in the first place. Her Mom, played by Rose Bryne, shows up about halfway through--initially doubting The Cage--but of course, knowing deep down that the predictions and visions of her manic, institutionalized Mom must be true.
So What's the Big Payoff and When Does it Really Fly Off the Rails?
Throughout the movie we get throwaway lines about how hot it is, and being in the midst of an Indian Summer, etc. before we eventually learn that the last sequence of digits ends not with a "33" but an "EE", shorthand for "everyone else." The plane and subway crash, along with the fact that there must be some reason why Cage's character is an astrophysicist who works at an observatory, are just appetizers for the climax which involves a rogue, mega-solar flare which promises to scorch the face of our blue planet with the purifying fire of God's wrath.
That's a Bit Strong...
You'd think, but like I said, nothing prepared me for the last 10-15 minutes of this movie, where we find out that the "Whisper People" are really angels, who are here to save only the children who have "heard the call" before the rest of us are burnt to a crisp by the purging fire. With an angelic-assist, humanity gets to "start over" and Cage's son, the other little girl who hears voices, along with--I shit you not--two lily-white rabbits, are taken aboard some kind of celestial ark, and get to ditch Dad and the rest of us sinners, blasphemers, and worst of all "skeptics" who don't believe in prophecy or numerology, to be cleansed by a giant, cosmic fart. Cage actually drops to his knees in their glowing presence and tells his son, they'll be reunited and "together forever." After the little ones are whisked away, the fun really starts, when were treated to a vision of the end that is really a thinly veiled ad for Ford Trucks.
Built Ford Tough?
You bet, like many films who need a creative way to fund their effects budget, Knowing, uses almost every opportunity to highlight Cage's bad-ass pick-up. Consider this series of images from "The End."
Built tough, built strong...
Gone...So basically, the incineration of a few billion people is used a handy device for reminding us about the durability and reliability of Ford pick-ups. I'll bet the tires don't even melt.
Here comes the sun...
Like so many other films about global disaster, (The Day After Tomorrow springs to mind), Knowing treats us to the mass death and destruction of everything (see above), but also begs us to care about something so astronomically trivial as whether or not a father and son are reunited or whether a man will regain his lost faith. Towards the end, I believe Rose Bryne's character says something along the lines of, "I can't let anything happen to the children!" Lady, in the face of our ozone layer being set on fire by solar radiation, that sentiment doesn't mean a great deal.
With its barely disguised--and I suspect Mormon--religious message, the film clearly wants us to believe life is anything but meaningless, but I cannot imagine anything that proves it more random and pointless as the idea that somehow the annihilation of our entire planet and species is redeemed by the fact that a couple of doe-eyed kids and their rabbits get to jet off to Kolob and lounge around under the Tree of Life in their new Eden, while a few billion others perish. Think I'm kidding? I might have been able to stomach it, if it wasn't for the fact that this was the last image we're left with:
Like all religion, is there anything more evil than something that demands we feel good, even hopeful, about the prospect of God killing everyone?