Thursday, March 26, 2009

Knowing... the ending.

Knowing, the new Nicolas Cage movie that grabbed the number one spot at the box-office last weekend, knows little about plot twists, less about being clever and absolutely nothing about basic human behavior. WARNING: if you're planning on seeing this exercise in obvious sci-fi illogic, stop reading now. At least you'll have the first five or ten minutes of film to still wonder how it ends. If you haven't figured it out by the time the blond guys in the trench coats show up, you're probably as easily mystified and as utterly plagued by a lack of logical reaction, as all of the characters in the film.
You've been warned - here's the ending... oh my god - they're aliens from another planet on a Noah's Ark rescue mission! Wow, revelation. Not.

Knowing anything in Knowing doesn't seem to make a bit of difference. Not to anyone. (And unfortunately that includes the audience.)  Having advance knowledge of a possible planet ending crisis doesn't even suggest to anyone that they might, oh, say something about it to someone other than a family member.

Nicolas Cage's character, an astrophysicist, looks at a chart (written 50 years earlier by a child) with a colleague and points out a chronologically correct prediction of the date and number of dead in world wide tragedies over the last fifty years, and his colleague's response is "Systems that find meaning in numbers are a dime a dozen. Why? Because people see what they want to see." Well that would be a pretty neat trick. You could build a career on that in a Vegas showroom.

While Cage's brilliance supposedly illuminates this chart of catastrophe his kid has stumbled on, neither he or his brilliant colleague notice that the elusive numbers that are not part of the date and number of dead, are map coordinates. That is until his ever present GPS unit (which has been staring him in the face every day in his car) flashes his own location to him, just as a jet plane crashes next to the highway he's traffic jammed on. Being the hero type (at least as an actor), Cage jumps from his car and runs into the jet fueled flames while burn-gag stuntmen stagger all around him. (Since when do people walk away from utter destruction, their only piece of bad luck, after surviving a horrific jet crash with no apparent broken appendages, being that they are unfortunately engulfed in fire?) That is fire, by the way, that causes sporadic explosions and assorted mayhem, but not enough heat to prevent the actors from standing only yards away.

By the way, Cage's useless heroics come at the expense of his young son, one still suffering from the tragic loss of his mother, being left and forgotten in the rain on the steps of his school. It's OK, the kid gets ignored lots more even though the script is fond of pointing out that Dad and son "will be with each other forever". Well, except Dad will die a split-second fiery death along with planet Earth and son & new girl pal will reignite the human race on a distant, alien utopian planet.

Throughout the film, people behave as directed and written, with no attention paid whatsoever to how actual people do behave. Even director Alex Proyas' supernatural and sci-fi classics The Crow (1994) and the brilliant Dark City (1998) made more sense than this. Characters search a school building for a missing child with flashlights rather than simply turning on the building's lights. Black, shiny pebbles seem to portend some alien message but are completely ignored as anything more than a curiosity (that one's never explained). Cage's character, racing to rescue his son from an apparent kidnapping, stops to hold hands with a dead woman in the back of an ambulance to utter some profound thoughts, seemingly once again forgetting that his son may be in peril. The list is long and increasingly unforgivable.

Perhaps some forgiveness for illogical character behavior could be summoned if the story were even the least bit riveting, nail biting, suspense filled. Sorry. The words hack, cliched and recycled are far better descriptors. Close your eyes and picture an alien - yep, a humanistic swirl of pulsing blue light with some amber and red around the heart and brain. What's an alien spaceship look like? Now-a-days its some fractal geometry written into a computer rendering program, all sliding and intersecting, constantly moving angles backlit with bright, white light. And where does it land? Does a bear shit in the woods? Apparently so do aliens.

Knowing's tagline is "Knowing is everything". It made lots of cash last weekend and as I'm writing, it's still been number one each day this week. If Knowing remains on top next weekend and climbs to financial success, there will be proof that Knowing does indeed know at least one thing for certain. There are lots of dumb people without a wit of logic in their own brains who still have enough money to go to the movies.

1 comment:

  1. While I agree with you on some counts, especially how appallingly inaccurate the action scenes were, I definitely wouldn't judge this movie so harshly. A little cliche, yes, but otherwise it wouldn't even be getting noticed in Hollywood. Everything that comes out these days must be at least somewhat easy to understand or else it'll bore people, and I think that this movie deserves some respect because it at least attempts to reach out to a shallow America. There are questions of life's purpose and where we go when we die, and the theme is decidedly Christian-oriented, in my opinion, only because that religion is so widespread and so easy to work with. While I didn't particularly like this (as an agnostic leaning towards being an atheist), at least it gave people something to think about. Also, while the aliens and "new colony" ideas weren't exactly novel, at least they provided one key subversion of a typical movie trope: the happy reunion at the end. Yeah, the family got back together, but they were in blazes seconds later. You have to admit that feels a little good, not because you didn't like the characters, but because it's not a heavenly happily ever after. The Christian theme is what actually allows this, showing the human inability to avoid a disaster on such a great scale. And, honestly, what would you do if you received this information? The inevitable Apocalypse is what this movie is all about, and I guess the trailer made it look like there was a fighting chance, but that's just because trailers all open-ended that way. Heck, because the main character died, you could say that the undertone here was even that people don't have significance, that we all die in the end, eliminating the possibility of an ultimate great purpose. The children lived, of course, but one could still argue that life is relatively pointless unless you're chosen to live on, unless very special, maybe impossible/unrealistic interference takes place. No, there is no heaven, nothing but a world up in hell-like flames when God had promised not to destroy the world again and when there was not intended to be a new beginning after the ultimate end. Also, John's mentioning of determinism and randomness, even though the reason he himself questioned determinism (his wife's death) was kind of cliche to me, at least it points to what could potentially be wondered about. Not only can one say that fate is out of their hands, they can also bring it a level deeper and say that the universe cannot be ordered. This movie invites one of have both of those degrees of thinking, no matter how cheesy some of it was. It poses the question of whether or not God exists, and that coupled with the significance and meaning of life is not just Hollywood fodder for the witless and should not be treated as such, in my opinion.

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