Knowing (2009)

(spoilers ahead)

Knowing is a hokey sci-fi-thriller but a very entertaining one. Its concept and often the execution are very over the top, but for some reason the movie still works. One reasons is Nicolas Cage, I think, who is quite good here. But whenever the movie drags a little with its somewhat clunky story, there is a set piece of a disaster that looks amazing and is very intense, especially the two-minute take of a plane crash. It’s disaster porn, sure, but it’s effective. The research scene of Cage finding out what the numbers mean that his son found is also compelling. I’m sure this movie has a smaller impact on a second viewing, but for what it is, it’s quite good and could have been much worse.

Three things: first, the movie is obsessed with disasters, or, to be more clear about this, our obsession with disasters. There is a reason why any natural disaster or terrorist attack leads to a huge media coverage and becomes the topic of most conversations for days. We are fascinated by unexpected events that cause many deaths and, more importantly, search for a meaning in them. The movie exploits this fascination to the fullest by both offering an explanation and by putting us right in the middle of each disaster, satisfying our desire to see exactly what is happening. If something happens, we want to see videos of it, anything, preferably news coverage but any shaky smartphone video will do. Here, we get the all the details, full disaster coverage, from plane crash to subway derailing to, eventually, the end of the world. Rarely has a movie enjoyed this more while also showing the horror of it. Other movies, especially Emmerich’s and Bay’s, make more of a spectacle of it, but here you get a sense of what it feels like to be part of it, the unimaginable that is running through our heads when we hear about some disaster. It’s merciless but not mean itself. It just shows you what might happen. By giving a meaning, or at least at plan to those events, we also get what we crave for, the answers that tell us: yes, there is a purpose. Which also dives into the conspiracy bag, just for the heck of it.

Next, there is both the idea of the end of the world, which, although here we are not at fault, is still an idea we face all the time because we see ourselves as flawed and self-destructive. As in so many other apocalyptic movies there is this idea that we deserve to be wiped out. Why? Because we are hope- and helpless. The movie also provides us with some hope by giving us “hope” in the form of angel-like beings that save some children for a better life. So, if we want to find a way to save ourselves, it is not within us, but can only be found in people who are not us. It’s a very religious idea, obviously, but the point is it cements us as imperfect, as damaged, as flawed. In turn, this makes clear that there is no hope for us. Many stories do that and it’s our culture’s way of telling us that we shouldn’t expect something better, because nothing good can come from us. All we can hope for is being rescued by aliens or angels.

Finally, we have a very clear gender role allocation at play in the movie. John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is the hero, always in charge, always in the right place and never really in danger. Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne) is, well, the woman on his side. There is not really a love story at least, but she is portrayed as so weak and passive and manic, it drove me crazy. She has terrible judgment calls and in the worst scene of the movie, when she has lost the kids after she stupidly took them away, she crumbles, needs clear instructions from John (who shouts at her very much in the Cagiest moment here) and runs around, screaming and screaming for help, in high heels, which somehow makes her look so hysterical it’s discomforting and pathetic.

Again, despite all my reservations and, when it comes to the woman portrayal, criticism, I still think it is a decent and entertaining movie.