Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Knowing / **** (PG-13)

John Koestler: Nicolas Cage
Caleb Koestler: Chandler Canterbury
Diana Wayland: Rose Byrne
Lucinda Embry/Abby Wayland: Lara Robinson
Grace Koestler: Nadia Townsend
The Stranger: D. G. Maloney

Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Alex Proyas. Written by Ryne Douglas Pearson and Juliet Snowden & Stiles White and Stuart Hazeldine. Running time: 130 min. Rated PG-13 (for disaster sequences, disturbing images, and brief strong language).

Whatever you have read about the new science fiction thriller “Knowing”, forget it. Most of what has been written about this wonderful film by critics is off the mark. This is an excellent movie—perhaps the best science fiction movie made in recent memory. And if any of those critics have mentioned how the movie ends, well they probably shouldn’t write about film anymore.

“Knowing” takes its time getting to its story. Some may perceive the opening passages as slow; but it all builds to one of the more powerful genre films to be made in a long time. The story begins in 1959 at a new school where a girl named Lucinda Embry comes up with the idea of planting a time capsule for the school’s dedication ceremony. Her class is selected to draw pictures of what they think the future will look like for the future generation of students. Just before the project, Lucinda sees a stranger in the forest and hears what sounds like many voices whispering. She seems to go into a trance; and instead of drawing a picture, she scribbles down a series of seemingly random numbers.

Skip ahead to 2009. We meet MIT professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage, “National Treasure”). He is a single father whose boy Caleb (Chandler Canterbury, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) is extremely intelligent and sensitive to the world around him. Caleb wears a hearing aid, not because he’s deaf, but because sometimes “he hears things all jumbled up.” The hearing aid helps. Caleb watches nature documentaries and quizzes his own genius father on the probability of life on other planets. Meanwhile, John continues to mourn the loss of his wife. Once a man who didn’t believe in coincidence, now he finds little purpose in anything that happens beyond the health and happiness of his boy.

It’s of little surprise or coincidence that Caleb should be the recipient of Lucinda’s strange numbers when the time capsule is opened at his school for its 50th Anniversary celebration. Caleb immediately begins to hear the whispering voices and see the stranger. John, however, sees a pattern in the numbers. He realizes the numbers coincide with dates of tragic events and the number of people that have died in each of them. There are some unaccounted for numbers, but John is certain what the numbers he’s identified mean and that the few remaining numbers on the list predict further tragedies that are going to happen. If he is right, his theory will be proven in the days to come.

Alex Proyas has staked a reputation for himself as a visionary science fiction director. In his late 90s effort “Dark City”, he presented a future where sentinel beings kept watch over a mechanized world that seemed designed to test its inhabitants. The strangers in “Knowing” owe much to the dark men in that earlier work. They carry the same sinister connotations as those dark figures from the earlier film, however this time they seem displaced in our own reality. What are they doing here? What is their purpose? How are they connected to the numbers?

Proyas also presents us with a series of disasters that are awesome in their realism and seeming inevitability. John finds himself in the possession of incredibly important knowledge about events that have yet to occur. Can he prevent them from happening? Can it even be true that a little girl predicted all these disasters over fifty years ago? And why would she pass that knowledge on in the way she did?

There is a plane crash—one of the predictions of the numbers. It takes place on a highway near Logan International Airport. It’s an eerie and dreamlike sequence that is frighteningly similar to a recurring nightmare I had as a child about the same event. Does the fact that Proyas so accurately depict one of my own personal nightmares make this movie good? No, but in this scene and the other disasters he depicts, he merges this dreamlike quality with a recognizable reality in a way that adds gravity to his story, making it more than just some cinematic CGI wizardry.

The screenwriting team doesn’t make the typical mistake with their hero here by having all of his family and colleagues decide that he has just gone off his rocker. They caution him not to see what he wants to see in the numbers, but instead of turning him into some sort of pariah they treat him with the respect his position and relationship with them deserve. Surprisingly, they come to the same conclusions and so John is allowed to follow his investigation into the numbers without the false drama of trying to convince those closest to him that he isn’t crazy.

John eventually looks up the daughter of Lucinda, Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne, “28 Weeks Later”). Diana’s own daughter is seeing and hearing the same strangers and whispers. Their drive to find the truth of the numbers is fueled primarily by their concern for the well being of their children. The conclusions they come to are profound, frightening, and unforgiving. The filmmakers don’t pull any punches.

The final moments of “Knowing” undoubtedly are the cause of so much disdain for the film in the critical community. I won’t hint at what happens here, but it concerns notions of which many people are skeptical. But whether or not you believe what the filmmakers present here, the machinations of the plot are implacable. Everything we are shown here is supported by everything that came before it. There are no cop-outs, no cheats, and no pious posturing by the characters or the filmmakers. What we are given as an audience in “Knowing” is a definitive vision and position from the filmmakers. It’s a movie that goes beyond the notion of standard entertainment and gives you something to ponder on your car ride home from the theater. This is the best movie of the year so far.

No comments: