Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Knowing

directed by Alex Proyas

Knowing poster  
Can there be anything more depressing than knowing exactly how the future will unfold, including when you will die? If there is, it's this film. The creators of Knowing seem to have been determined to make a movie that's every bit as downbeat as its subject matter, if not more.

In 1959 a schoolgirl writes a series of numbers onto a piece of paper, which is then placed in a time capsule. Fifty years later this piece of paper ends up in the hands of Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury). Caleb is a precocious child, the kind who asks questions about astronomy and who prefers to watch Discovery rather than cartoons.

However Caleb's mother is dead, and he lives with his father (Nicolas Cage). It's a sad household. We know John Koestler is taking his wife's death badly thanks to the clichéd movie shorthand of a bottle of liquor to drown his sorrows. Muted grey and brown tones emphasise the gloom they feel in the Koestler household. To say Knowing is bleak is a little like saying the Apocalypse will be disruptive.

Most people might dismiss a page full of numbers as handwriting practice, but John Koestler is an M.I.T. professor with a bee in his bonnet about determinism. So John seizes on the numbers as though they are some kind of coded message to be interpreted. What he finds in them are the dates and death tolls of all the major worldwide disasters since the time of writing to the present day. The numbers seem to foretell more deaths in the near future. But while John is trying to piece it all together and prevent further loss of life, Caleb is hearing voices in his head and getting visits from strange, silent men who give him pebbles.

Knowing isn't exactly science fiction, and nor is it fantasy. Instead it falls somewhere in between, with a heavy dose of religious mysticism to spice up the action. Rather than sticking to philosophising about whether or not we have any control over our fate, however, the film caters to the attention deficient by producing spectacular explosions and scenes of carnage and disaster whenever possible. When that doesn't seem to do the trick scenes of mass panic and some apparently supernatural goings-on are there to fill the gaps which might otherwise have to include some in-depth exploration of the movie's themes. So in spite of having central characters who are supposed to be unusually smart the film itself is quite lowbrow.

And this brings me to my main gripe: if Knowing isn't an intellectual movie, and if it doesn't challenge the audience or throw light on a little-known aspect of the world we live in, then what is it for? Because if you're hoping the answer to this question is "escapism" or "a bit of feelgood fun" then you're out of luck. It's as grim and humourless as a terrorist ransom video. Nicolas Cage ploughs through the role like an old dog waiting to be put out of his misery. Even on the rare occasions when positive things happen this movie still manages to be depressing.

If you urgently need something to dampen your mood, perhaps for some reason you're suffering from excessive gleefulness and maybe your chirpiness is getting on people's nerves, then Knowing is just the tonic you need. Everyone else should avoid it.

Film Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Films

  Fantasy

Classification: 15

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Alex Proyas

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