Knowing (2009) Review – It Knows How to Defy Explanation

‘Knowing’. Now there’s an interesting title. From that title might come the question, ‘what are we supposed to know?’. Or ‘What does the film know?’. Is it about ‘knowing’ in general? We all know something otherwise no one would do anything and there wouldn’t be anything to know. Where was I?

Oh yeah, ‘Knowing’. It’s actually one of those thrillers that I kind of like in that it’s got some B movie story threads with an A movie budget. It stars Nicholas Cage but don’t let that put you off. This is one of Nick Cage’s more ‘coherent’ films. It’s no ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ but it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as ‘The Wicker Man’ or ‘Ghost Rider’ or anything else that he was totally wrong for. It’s still really bonkers but the premise is really interesting. I’m going to have to go through all aspects of the plot to show the beautiful madness. I’ll give a real spoiler warning before I talk about the ending but there is one here, now.

John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) is a widowed father and lives with his son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). John is a professor at a university and ditches to go to a ceremony at his son’s school. The school are lifting a time capsule out of the ground which holds letters written by the children who attended the school fifty years earlier. The letters depict what the children of 1959 think 2009 will look like. By a miraculous coincidence, Caleb is handed a letter written by a troubled young girl named Lucinda and her letter contains no pictures but instead a series of numbers that are a mystery. As John later discovers, these numbers relate to the date, death toll and locations of all the major disasters that have occurred on Earth in the subsequent fifty years and predict three events that are yet to occur.

If you’re thinking that this plot seems very ‘Shyamalan’ then you’re right but wrong at the same time. When I said this is an odd movie, I wasn’t kidding. There’s some real talent behind it and also some obscurity. The talent lies in the director who is Alex Proyas who directed ‘The Crow (1994)’, one of the most beautifully presented movies of all time and also one of my favourite movies of all time. The writers however, of which there are three, two of them are responsible for shitty horror movies and the other one has only written three films (including this) and one isn’t even out yet. Do you see what I mean? The meeting of something so brilliant and something else that’s painfully below par must produce something unbelievably mediocre, right? Wrong again.

It’s a weird movie because it does so many things wrong but I can’t hate it. Not because I’m biased towards Alex Proyas but because it has so many things that I ask for in a thriller. It has intrigue, a genuine mystery, some decent foreshadowing and actually has the balls to make an outlandish claim and then carry it out making for a surprising and half way decent ending. I’m trying not to spoil too soon.

I will give you the biggest problem with this film and that is that it relies heavily on convenience. Here’s my first example.

When John figures out what the numbers on the paper actually mean, he’s pouring himself a glass of whiskey and absentmindedly overfills his glass. He places the dripping glass on the paper which make a ring. As John dabs the paper with a bit of kitchen roll, he sees that the whiskey ring circles a few numbers that catches his eye.  911012996 which becomes 9/11/01 2996. John searches 9/11 on his computer and finds a memorial page to the September 11th terrorist attacks that’s dedicated to the 2996 people who died that day. This then leads to a little montage where he links the numbers to the dates and death toll of every major disaster all over the world.

The point is that he just so happens to pop his glass onto the exact numbers that reference a major and devastating event in American History. Convenient? Here’s another one.

After John links most of the numbers, he finds three events that haven’t happened yet along with a certain set of numbers that he hasn’t found a meaning for yet. As he’s driving to pick up his son, he’s stuck in traffic. He glances at this sat-nav and notices the latitude and longitude of his location are the same as the numbers on the paper of where the first of the predicted disasters is meant to occur. According to the prediction, 81 people are meant to die on that day and in that specific location. Since no one was injured in the accident that caused the traffic jam, there has to be something else and John just so happens to be in the right place at the right time as a plane streaks across the road and crashes in a field. John does his best to try and save some people but it’s all for nothing. 81 people die in the crash. You see, the paper mentions the date, location and death toll of each disaster but it doesn’t mention the time that it happens. So, John just happens to be in the right place at the right time to witness one of the predicted disasters first hand. Convenient?

Whilst all this intrigue is happening, there’s stuff going on in the background. Caleb’s son is hearing impaired and requires hearing aids. He begins picking up strange sounds in the hearing aids and also starts seeing a strange, sheer white skinned man in a black suit hanging around outside the house.

John tries to figure out more about the numbers and the little girl who wrote them, Lucinda. He tracks down her teacher who is still alive but getting on in years and her memory isn’t what it used to be. She does tell John that after she took Lucinda’s paper away before she was finished writing, Lucinda was found in the basement, scratching more numbers into the door with her fingernails.

He discovers that Lucinda died but she did marry and have a daughter, Diana (Rose Byrne) and she has a daughter, Abby (Lara Robinson).

Now I’m really going to get into spoiler territory so if all this sounds intriguing then hunt this film down and have a watch. This is your spoiler warning as promised.

After another disaster in a New York subway claims 170 lives just as the paper predicted, John is determined to stop the final disaster on the list which will kill 33 people on October 19th. Or so he thinks. John and Diana take their kids to Lucinda’s trailer in the middle of the woods to find some answers. Since Lucinda had a tendency to write letters backwards, he realises that 33 is actually ‘EE’ and discovers that ‘EE’ stands for ‘Everyone Else’ meaning the final disaster will be global.

Here’s where the foreshadowing comes into play. Throughout the film, there are certain news stories played in the background involving solar flares which cause mobile phones to be affecting and are said to be the cause of the plane crash that killed 81 people. Caleb also has a vision of the world in flames as well as Lucinda having pictures that depict the same. John soon realises that world will come to an end via a massive solar flare that will kill all living organisms on Earth.

Whilst Diana wants to take the kids to a cave where they will probably survive the flare, John finds the door in the school where Lucinda engraved the final numbers. John finds them but Diana takes the kids without him.

To cut a long story short, John finds the kids but they are taken by the strange man who’s been following them for the entire film. Diana gets T-boned by another car and killed. John follows the final co-ordinates to the location of Lucinda’s trailer and also where the strange man has taken the kids. Both Caleb and Abby are unharmed, and the strange men are actually aliens who have come to take the children to another world where they will be safe and live happily ever after. But that’s just it, the children. Not John. Caleb doesn’t want to leave his father but since John knows his son staying means certain death, he sends Caleb and Abby with the aliens and they take off into space in their ship along with many other ships implying that more children have been saved.

John returns to his parents’ home on the last day. He embraces his family as the planet gets roasted.

The last shot of the film is of Caleb and Abby skipped through a field on another world.

And that’s it. Crazy, isn’t it? That’s why I like it. I did compare it to an M. Night Shyamalan plot earlier and it does feel like one. Whilst I mean no offence to the man (The Sixth Sense was awesome), ‘Knowing’ feels like an M. Night plot but done better. It reminded me of ‘Signs’ which I did enjoy even though it was deeply flawed and I can definitely sense some religious overtones coming from ‘Knowing’ as there was in ‘Signs’.

It’s debated as to whether the aliens were in fact aliens or angels as when they shed their incredibly white skin, they were glowing figures that resembled a human shape. But if they were angels then that would mean that the kids were in Heaven at the end and they were dead. Which doesn’t make any sense. If those kids where chosen to spend an eternity in Heaven then what about all the God loving people on Earth? Where’s their eternity in Heaven? It makes more sense that they were aliens took the children so they could continue the human race. Presumably. That seems like something aliens would do.

There’s a scene at the start of the film where John is teaching a class and he asks them to think about the set of circumstances that put Earth at the correct distance away from the Sun so life can grow. Is it determined or random? This speech is in itself a foreshadow to the events of the film. It suggests that the disasters were determined as they were predicted by a little girl fifty years ago with some help from the aliens as a warning so preparations could be made. Since the message was buried for fifty years, no one could make those preparations but then again, how can you make preparations for something like that? That’s actually a pretty big plot hole.

It’s said that the message was given to make preparations but why did they give them to a little girl? No one is going to believe a child who says that the planet is going to get cooked in fifty years time. And also, why go the trouble of writing down all the major disasters of the coming years when the last one would have done? And also, how do you prove that the numbers are what they say they are? It was easy for John because all the disasters had already happened but for the people of 1959, all that stuff was in their future. And also, why a little girl? It’s understood that the aliens have a connection with children since they can hear the whispering but wouldn’t it have been better to give the numbers to a numerologist or a mathematician? Some one who might be able to do something?

All these points are moot because as I say, I like the film and Nicholas Cage actually does a pretty good job and the script was alright and the direction was amazing and the special effects were really good although I really could have done without the ‘You and me together forever’ hand gestures that John and Caleb do throughout the movie which were more cringy than touching.

So, how did the film perform?

‘Knowing’ was released in the United States and Canada on March 20th, 2009 in 3,332 theatres bringing in $24,604,751 in the opening weekend putting it at Number 1. The film was released on March 17th in the International market bringing $9.8 Million in that weekend. All in all, ‘Knowing’ grossed $80 Million in the US and Canada and just under $107 Million everywhere else which made a grand total of $186.5 Million against a $50 Million budget.

But it doesn’t stop there. ‘Knowing’ made an additional $27.6 Million in global and domestic video sales. That’s pretty good.

My final word on ‘Knowing’? There are certainly worst ways to spend two hours. Unless someone’s already predicted it.

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