Droid may understand ‘Knowing’, but is still bamboozled by the infinite mysteries of the hairpiece.
The key to enjoying a film with an absurd premise is this; Sit back, munch on your popcorn, sip on your coke and go along for the ride. Alex Proyas’ film ‘Knowing’ demands you do just that. It’s preposterous and absurd. But it’s also thrilling, fascinating, intriguing and fun. And stuffed in the cracks of the film is a subtext that elevates the mystery. It’s there if you look for it. Most won’t, but those who do will be debating the meaning of the ending for hours.
In 1959, a competition is held to decide how to commemorate the opening of William Dawes Elementary School. The winner is Lucinda (Lara Robinson), a troubled looking girl, who suggests a time capsule. All the children will draw their vision of the future and in 50 years a ceremony will be held where the capsule will be dug up and the children’s predictions seen. As the class gets to work on their drawings, mostly of rocket ships and robots, Lucinda writes furiously, as if possessed. Her prediction is two pages of numbers.
Cut to present day, where we meet John Koestler (Nic Cage), an MIT Professor of Astrophysics and his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). John is struggling with the death of his wife, who died in a hotel fire about a year earlier. Caleb attends William Dawes and at the ceremony receives Lucinda’s vision of the future. Intrigued, he brings it home and shows his father, saying it may be a math puzzle. John initially dismisses the paper, but becomes fascinated when he discovers a possible code within the numbers.
91120012996. 9/11/2001. 2996. What is 2996, you ask? That’s the official death toll.
Working feverishly, he connects date after date to a tragic event, accurately predicting how many people died. He makes a disturbing connection. The page includes the hotel fire which killed 48, including his wife. There are three more dates unaccounted for. Three tragic events that haven’t taken place yet.
John takes his findings to a colleague at MIT, Phil Beckman (Ben Mendelsohn) who rationalises reasonably with him. John is seeing what he wants to see in the numbers. But John is not convinced. He tracks down Lucinda’s daughter Diana (Rose Byrne) and granddaughter Abby (Lara Robinson again), hoping for information about the predictions. None is forthcoming.
Up to this point, the film has been a slow build of character and mystery. That is, until the moment John figures out that the extra numbers, listed after each date and death toll are actually coordinates, latitude and longitude. Punching them into his Sat Nav he discovers where the next event will occur. “But that’s right here!” Moments later, in a horrifyingly effective one shot, a plane falls out of the sky and explodes just metres away from where John is standing.
The predictions are accurate. There are two more events on the list. Can John stop them? Who are the strangers who are telepathically connected to Caleb and Abby? And why does the final prediction have EE as the number of fatalities?
Alex Proyas knows this territory like the back of his hand. His Dark City is a masterpiece of genre bending. Here he allows the mystery and sense of dread to slowly build before releasing the handbrake. The second hour, set around two masterful set pieces, rarely lets up.
Nicholas Cage does what is necessary with a fairly difficult role. He brings his usual intensity to the role, making believable the actions of a man of logic and science, whose belief system has been shattered.
What I liked most about Knowing, is it followed its logic to the end. It may be a preposterous film, but it has a confidence and belief in its story that is unusual in standard Hollywood doomsday thrillers. There is no cop out ending, only the inevitable. What’s more unusual is a Hollywood thriller that prompts us to question it’s meaning.
I have purposefully left out story elements, like The Strangers. I will leave that for you to discover and to contemplate. Who are they? Where are they from? And what is their purpose?
You won’t be given all the answers from ‘Knowing’. You’ll have to figure them out for yourself.