Knowing belongs to the distinct and rare category of movies that deliver on their promise of presenting believable, exciting, nail biting, end of the world scenarios. When I say deliver, I don't just mean that this film is frighteningly nail biting, visually exciting, more or less believable in a movie sort of way, but that it dares to take us where we think the film might be headed.
The premise isn't new. During its creepy opening, set in 1959, a time capsule is buried at a school, with the intention of being opened 50 years later during our present. School children are asked to draw images of what they perceive the future will look like, but one strange girl pencils random numbers. Her cryptic number sequence is opened by Caleb in the future, son of grieving widower John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), an MIT professor, who takes a fascination with what these numbers might mean. John decrypts segments of the sequences and realizes that they indicate the dates of major worldwide disasters that have taken place during the past 50 years, with three yet to occur. He soon finds himself confronted with the choice of possibly averting said disasters. But the film asks many questions – about determinism and randomness, and whether everything has a purpose and the answers to these questions unlock both the films meaning and its reason for setting things up the way they unfold, the discussion of which here might ruin your film watching experience.
Knowing is at times seriously terrifying, but during its two main extended disaster segments, unlike those audiences may have seen in insipid works of Roland Emmerich, it is appropriately horrific in a way that I've rarely seen depicted onscreen, at least not this well. The various accidents in the film don't just happen as we watch them passively; as was the case with Frank Darabont's excellent The Mist, director Alex Proyas confronts Knowing's destruction and horror head on. The camera stays in the middle of the carnage; it feeds on all of our collective, proverbial, post 9/11 fears of the unknown and the hysteria this brings. The events of the film are intentionally unsettling and the judicious and sporadic, not constant, use of excellent visuals leaves a stark impact. This is in direct contrast to the recent films of M. Night Shyamalan which had similar 'end-of-world' setups but never delivered on their potential.
I have mentioned that the films premise isn't new and this fact may explain why the film has had such a cold reaction. Some of the damage to Knowing may also be inherent in Cage's casting, a very good and competent actor, as he proves here, but nonetheless someone who has taken a lot of bad press recently for his strange and utterly ubiquitous movie choices. His neurotic, worrywart may be tiring for audiences familiar with seeing him too often, but is fitting and necessary here. His dilemma with not just being able to determine when the next catastrophe will occur but also being able to do something about it gives the film great internal conflict. Some may no doubt be taken aback by what they believe are the films religious connotations, which I disagree with. The film offers a point of view and backs it up with everything we see before and this makes for not just compelling viewing, but great post-film discussions, especially since Knowing is courageous enough to go all the way in proving its point. - Faizan Rashid