So here I am in Berlin, right at the end of my trip, and I don’t feel like going out and trying to find something cultured or interesting to occupy my evening. Plus the Turkish fellow who was supposed to come over and… well, things unpolite to print, failed to show and I thought “Fuck it! I’m gonna go see Knowing!” which I had seen was playing at a movie theater here. And what an excellent choice it was. Truth be told, I was actually hoping it would be dubbed into German, as I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have to understand what anyone was saying, but in retrospect I’m glad it wasn’t, because some of the dialogue was so amazing.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that we are witness to the cheesy movie event of 2009. In fact, I feel that I let you down in not seeing it earlier, as one reader of the site explicitly advised me to do. But if it’s still lingering in a theater near you, I suggest you RUN [do not walk] to catch its magnificence on the big screen while this precious experience lasts. Stop only at the liquor store [or call your dealer] on the way, and just so you know, everyone in your party will need at least a fifth of hard liquor EACH.
Life was kind to me after said disappointment of failed Turk-love, and the movie was starting just as I arrived. I settled into my ASSIGNED SEAT happy that Germany isn’t like France, where they show literally 45 minutes of ads before the movie starts. I have one more little international detail to share with you before we delve into the miracle of Knowing. I went to the snack stand and asked for a medium Pepsi Light [that’s what they call diet] and the woman said “Uh, a medium is a LITER.” As if it is NOT POSSIBLE that one single human being could consume a LITER of soda during one sitting, so I had to act appalled and request a small. I should have said “Yo, I’m AMERICAN, Bitch!”
Okay! So we begin in a classroom in 1959 with a teacher explaining to her class that they chose the idea of this girl Lucinda, and they’re going to make a time capsule, and all the kids should draw what they think the future is going to look like. Lucinda gets to work writing numbers, numbers, numbers, and seemingly isn’t quite done when the teacher snatches the paper away, leaving us to think that the final, crucial bit of information has been left off. Then—Lucinda goes missing! And they search the entire school for her, long into the night! And they find her in a closet downstairs, having scratched something [must be the final, crucial bit of information!] into the door with her now-bloody fingernails! Then—present day! Actually first, some nice credits with night views of the Earth from way above, and also the news that this movie co-stars Rose Byrne, who I love from Wicker Park! It also, you may be aware, stars Nicolas Cage, a fact that led to my ill-advised dismissal of it until now, saying “Look, if this movie were any good, would it star Nicolas Cage?”
Cage plays John, who has a young son Caleb [why can’t anyone just name their kids Bob or something? Actually, though, turns out there's a Biblical-allusion reason for this name]. This resulted in my rolling my eyes every time John said his son’s name, at least until other concerns took precedence. Anyway, Caleb has a bunny! Which made me miss MY bunny, who I can’t wait to see when I get home. But as for the one in this movie, everyone is running around so much I don’t know when that thing is getting fed. John and Caleb exemplify movie family formula 3 of 5 in which mom is dead and pops has trouble moving on and just doesn’t know how to bridge the gulf with his son, who is still all hung up on mom. John and Caleb had a discussion—which just MAY hinge on the subjects this movie covers—of whether there is life on other planets, John coming down firmly on the belief that there is not, leading to the first dialogue howler when he later says “Look, Caleb, when I said there’s no life out there, I didn’t mean like in heaven,” [this is a paraphrase], although he goes on to confirm that he does not, in fact, believe in heaven, although he encourages Caleb to believe whatever he wants to… even though it’s fucking dumb, he might as well have added.
John lives in a huge house in the middle of the woods outside of Boston that, shall we say, takes shabby chic to the next level. I always wonder about these movie astrophysicist professors that clearly devote a great deal of time to interior decoration and distinctive antique home furnishings. He cranks up the Beethoven [Umm, didn’t you JUST put your kid to bed?] and hits the booze! This is shorthand for “He’s still grieving!”
The next day John leads an exposition class somehow linking determinism and the chemical composition of the sun [?!]. That is what they call LIBERAL ARTS. But the real point is to get us all pondering on how it is that the Earth is the exact right distance from the sun to support life—divine design or pure chance?—and to lay out John’s position: “Shit just happens.” Then his annoying pal Phil stops by, who is trying to set John up with some floozy. But wait—I forgot my son's ceremony!
He runs to the ceremony where they open the time capsule, and Caleb gets the note with all the numbers! He takes it home, and John admonishes him that it belongs to the school and they’re going to take it right back tomorrow, although he ends up keeping it himself for the rest of the film. John hits the booze again that night, big time, and somehow picks 9/11 out of the middle of a LARGE circle in the middle of the sheet, even though if these are all the big disasters since time began that would be near the end of the sheet. Then he starts looking up the rest of the numbers—dates, with the number of people dead, and other unknown numbers—and drinks heavily while spending the rest of the night looking up every single one. He tells his friend Phil the revelation the next day, and even though it is some fairly compelling evidence, and at least merits further attention, Phil the dick tells him he’s just cracking up because he misses his poor dead wife. Thanks for the support, Phil! Phil’s demeanor and cadence of voice does not suggest heterosexuality to me, but later we find out that he supposedly has a wife.
Then mysterious men pull up in a LeBaron and give Caleb a little polished black stone, redeemable for $1 off a super combo at AMC Theatres. Then John’s sister Grace shows up with the family portion of our exposition trilogy, wherein we find out that his dad is a pastor, and that John is estranged from him, because as you know, John is not a believer. If you are beginning to suspect that a central subtext here is John’s late sprint to Jesus… well, I couldn’t possibly say. What John does believe in is technology, however, as we have several loving shots of his TiVo interface and global positioning device. Then—damn! I forgot today was carpool day!
He gets caught in traffic on his way to the school, when he notices that his global positioning device lists the mysterious, unidentified set of numbers—as coordinates! And he just HAPPENS to be RIGHT at the VERY set of coordinates it says the next disaster is going to happen! Said hey John, move away from there! He gets out of his truck in the rain and asks if he can help out at the truck accident that causing the snag when—whoosh, a giant plane comes hurtling out of the sky and crashes right in the field nearby! John rushes over to watch a bunch of people burn alive in front of our eyes—he’s supposedly helping, but he doesn’t seem to do that much—then the medics order him to get on home. Once there, he continues his pattern of non-communication with his child and tells him he can’t watch any TV—although the kid doesn’t know anything about the numbers prophecy, so I don’t see what the big deal is. You’ll also notice, for the first time of many, that the ground around John’s house seems to be SMOLDERING. I believe this is just to create atmospheric mist, and apparently the filmmakers actually think it LOOKS like atmospheric mist.
Then John tells Phil about the crash. “Coordinates!” Phil says, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Well, Phil, I guess you’ve never seen a movie before? Because that is the FIRST thing I thought of. And this guy supposedly has an advanced degree. Now John thinks that the paper with the numbers [which he hasn’t bothered to photocopy yet, dragging the sensitive original with him everywhere] is a warning specially meant for HIM! He was SUPPOSED to be at that crash! You gotta love it, because here we are only 30 minutes in and Cage’s performance is already pitched to 11.
That night, a mysterious member of a boy band appears in Caleb’s room, and points to the window, which begins to glow yellow. Now, the reason I knew the numbers were coordinates is because I had seen Close Encounters, and at this point I was confirmed that this movie is drawing heavily on the tone and atmosphere of that movie. Anyway, Caleb looks out the window and sees a naked guy pulling his pud! No, silly, he sees the forest all on fire and all the woodland creatures running—many on fire—out of the forest. I’m afraid Bambi’s mother didn’t make it. John hears him scream and finds him curled up and freaked out on the floor. “It’s just a bad dream” John says, without having bothered to ask his son what happened or what frightened him. Hey, you know what, John? You are a SHITTY FATHER!
The next day John is skulking by Lucinda’s old house and sees the lovely and fabulous Rose Byrne and her own adorable little spawn [and they did a good job of finding a child that looks quite like her]. He follows her to the Natural History Museum—the normally belligerent and curious Caleb just shuts his mouth and goes along, apparently—and engineers a friendship between the two kids, and meets Rose as Diana and her kid Abby. They have coffee together in the café and he springs on her that he’s actually stalking her and wants to talk about her mother’s visions—although I don’t believe he ever ascertained that she actually is Lucinda’s daughter. Anyway, Diana FREAKS! She wants John to stay away from her and her daughter! But could it be that she has some deep-seated issues of her own? By the way, keep an ear out for the way Cage keeps alternating between calling her “Diane” and “Diana” throughout the rest of the film.
The next disaster is supposed to happen TOMORROW! And right in New York City! The news has word that authorities had word of a terrorist strike, so John calls the FBI from a pay phone and—this is one of the highlights of the movie—shouts about a disaster that’s going to happen and how they’ve got to clear the area, then hangs up! God, precious moments. Then he shows up at his sister’s house and says “You said you’d take him. Off my hands.” Then the camera pans down and we see Caleb at his side, RIGHT THERE while his father is referring to him as some kind of horrible burden his father just needs some time away from. This guy needs to have that kid taken away.
This is because John is headed to New York where he… well, what DOES he think he’s going to do? Tell everyone to be REALLY careful? The real reason is so we in the audience can see the big disaster as it happens. He asks the FBI in a bewildered way why they didn’t heed his warning and cordon off the area, which makes the FBI want HIM. So he runs down into the Lafayette street station [Uh, I don’t think that looks like the Lafayette street station] and, since they thought what’s to come might be a terrorist thing, starts looking for towelheads. Seriously, he starts looking around for darker-skinned people! It’s rude. He follows one, but the guy only has some stolen DVDs, when a train jumps the tracks, smashes into his train and goes up on the platform. You will start to realize that this film is a form of disaster porn when we have shots of the train plowing through pedestrians, watching as they splop against the windshield, and get ground under the train. And hey—that’s part of what I’m here to see!
Now, I leave it up to you to decide how much of the spoilers you want to read, but I will warn you again before the real doozies come up.
SPOILERS > > >
So John and Diana go out to Lucinda’s old trailer where she lived after her husband took Diana away from her for being too weird, especially since mom used to tell Diana that she’s going to die on October 19th of this year… which is like in two days. More smoldering ground… if they’re worried, they should check for wildfires. Now, it turns out that the sheet of paper ends with a backwards ‘EE,’ which the film has withheld from us until now, and which we are to understand John has interpreted as a pair of threes, even though they look nothing like all the other threes on the page. He also doesn’t connect news of Abby hearing whispering voices in her head with the voices his son has been hearing—although he’d have to pay some attention to his son for that.
So they find some scrawling on the bottom of the bed and turns out it says “Everyone Else,” which means everyone in the whole fucking world is gonna get it! Sweet! Meanwhile, the kids are menaced by Gary Numan again, in one of the film’s attempts to have an action scene every 5 minutes but without actually advancing the story in any way.
Now is about when one starts shaking one’s head and the lines poor Rose Byrne, who has her dignity, is forced to utter, such as “Abby’s all I’ve GOT, John! I can’t let anything happen to her!” Well, aren’t we talking about the end of the world here? So even if you did save her, what would you be saving her FOR? But the film pays this no mind. The next day John connects that it’s the sun! It’s going to be a super solar flare! That’s why it’s been so unusually warm lately—and may have something to do with why the ground is smoldering, although I still maintain that’s just a poor attempt at atmosphere. John tells Phil, who blurts “We have to let everyone know!” and again you’re like, Why? “Hey guys, you’re all going to die! Just thought ya’ll might want to know! Thanks! Uh, you can go back about your business now.”
Well, it’s time to open that one last birthday gift from the dead wife—and to hit the vintage Bordeaux’s in one’s cellar. No time like the present. John calls his estranged father and—another amazing like that I didn’t get down precisely—says “Uh, Dad? I have a prophetic vision, and I need you to respect it.” Then, Caleb is obsessively writing numbers, just like Lucinda! But… if the world is ending in a few hours, what numbers could these be? Maybe he’s just reiterating the first.
Now is when the movie fully flies off the rails to my utter delectation and delight. And now is when the big spoilers happen, so if you're going to see this, really, don't read them. John, still not big on communication, takes everyone to the school and gets the old gym door, then back to his barn to scrape it, while Diana is itching to get down into some caves she knows about. John realizes that the final coordinates [this is the aforementioned last, crucial bit of information from the beginning that he didn't bother to get them til now, although he's known about them for days] are the location of Lucinda’s trailer! And he whips out a gadget from his pocket that tells him so—which got a huge whoop from me, until I realized that it’s just his GPS in his back pocket. But—Diana has kidnapped the kids!
She ends up at a gas station where there’s an emergency broadcast, saying there are solar flares and the government can’t do anything. One of my favorite little touches is how when someone asks where the President is and they say he is being flown to a “secure location,” just like after 9/11, when he vanished for several days.
Anyway, Gary Numan kidnaps the kids from Diana! And she steals a truck to give chase and then—well, I won’t tell you, but Diana’s out of the picture. Then—and this one has to top them all—Cage arrives at the gas station, saying “30 minutes ago there was a woman here! She was screaming!” John then drives out to the trailer, gun in hand: he’s gonna blow away some whisper people ass!
Turns out Caleb and Abby are out behind the trailer—and they’ve both been given a free BUNNY! That’s a nice on-board gift. John says “Caleb! What did he DO to you?” which got an evil smirk from me. The mysterious blonds have told the children that only they can go and before you can say “Go where?” the ALIEN SPACESHIP descends from the clouds! That’s right, bitches, it’s those pesky aliens AGAIN! Caleb doesn’t seem too upset about leaving his dad behind—and let’s face it, he’s a piss-poor parent—but then has a big emotional speech when it sinks in he’s gonna have to leave his daddy. Well whatever, he’s got a cute bunny now. SPACE BUNNIES!
Anyway, the alien ship is pretty cool. It seems, between this and the forthcoming Baby Star Trek movie, the new thing is to have spaceships that look like plants. Anyway, we finally have the last of our Close Encounters rip-offs [and it’s a doozy], and the ship leaves Earth, leaving John feeling pretty down. He decides to drive into town while the cities are burning and Phil and beard, I mean, wife, are clutching each other in the streets.
Then—the world ends! No shit! Actually, I read this before and it was about the only thing that made me want to see the movie. What we get is kind of an updated version of the wall-of-flame thing from Independence Day, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever, it looks cool. We of course see New York landmarks be destroyed, because as you know, New York = The World. We end with a tiny epilogue on a planet covered with rolling yellow grass [hope neither of those kids has allergies], where they deposit their bunnies and our new Adam and Eve run off toward, I kid you not, a big tree of life. I can’t wait to see the sequel with the Space Jesus. Hot!
Before we exit the spoiler zone, we must discuss that, looking back, it becomes painfully obvious that NONE of this story had to happen. If the aliens really wanted these kids, they could have just taken them. Why did John need to know about the numbers or the disasters at all? What point did it serve? I know—it gave us a movie to watch—but other than that? It had NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING! Since he can’t DO anything about the end of the world, what was the point? And why are the aliens skulking around in the night delivering polished stones [and WHAT were they about?] when all they have to do is pick up the kids on the way to the wheat-planet? So story-wise, one feels a little jerked-around and used when you realize that this ENTIRE story served no purpose whatsoever, except to give itself a reason to exist.
< < < SPOILERS END
That said, how can I describe the EXHILARATION of seeing something to delightfully, so incredibly off-the-wall ludicrous and awful? It’s a high, I tell you. I had a delightful time from start to finish. You have the ridiculous premise, which calls forth much overacting and ludicrous dialogue from Cage, and you have periodic disaster special-effects setpieces, and then the end spins out of control in the most amazing way imaginable, accompanied by more cool special effects and, well, the ending! It is not to be believed, and I’m so glad I got to watch it in the theater. I’m not even sure I know what else to say… run to catch this in the theater and if not, start planning a bad movie party around its DVD release. Nicolas Cage, man… I knew we could count on you.
Holy God, you have no idea how much.