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Knowing

dir: Alex Proyas
[img_assist|nid=716|title=They pay me millions to do this|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=570|height=300]
I’m not usually in two minds about any movie I’ve watched. And, truth be told, I’m not in two minds about this flick either. This is, in a lot of ways, a terrible film. The plot is terrible, the stupid things that happen are the opposite of good, and having a ham of Nicolas Cage’s magnitude in it doesn’t help either. For once, though, he is not to blame. At least, not the primary blame.

And it having been filmed in Melbourne doesn’t help either. I feel so biased and conflicted.

There is, still, something compelling not about why something big happens in this film, but what ultimately happens. I’m going to try to avoid saying what ultimately happens, because it’s a pretty big spoiler, as big as spoilers get, really.

Back in 1959, a little girl hears these mysterious whispers. They compel her to scrawl maniacally a sequence of numbers that don’t mean anything, and then the sheet of paper is coincidentally locked up inside a time capsule that is to be opened 50 years hence.

Now in 2009, a drunken astronomer (Cage) speaks to a class about whether determinism governs the universe, or whether it’s all random chaos that exemplifies what happens, down to the death of the drunken astronomer’s wife. The drunken astronomer has a depressed son (Chandler Canterbury) who hears whispering too.

The son goes to the same school where the time capsule was buried, which is unleashed upon the world in all its glory on this very day when everything comes together in a neat little package. Whispers induce him to pick up the envelope, the scary music seals the deal. He takes the list home so that his father can spill whisky onto the sheet of numbers and become intrigued by them, for no reason.

For no reason: let me repeat – for absolutely no reason, drunken astronomer guy starts circling numbers, and putting them into a search engine in order to find out that, shock horror, the sheet of paper contained a list of catastrophes around the world for the last 50 years, including the greatest, most worstest catastrophe in remembered American memory, being 9 / 11. Have no doubts about this: it is one of the worst plot devices or maguffins I ever seen in any film, and that includes the use of pheromones in Megashark Versus Giant Octopus.

So let’s get this straight: some group or entity knew fifty years ago in advance all these awful things that were going to happen that would end many people’s lives over the next fifty years, including the amount of people that would die, and the longitude and latitude of the various incidents. They give this list to a girl who puts it in the ground for those relevant fifty years. These beings, who have seen the future, wanted the list buried, for a drunken astronomer to pick up a few days before a really big catastrophe is/was meant to occur? THIS is the goddamn plot you’re going with, Proyas?

So they can see the future, or they’re from the future, but they’re really stupid at the same time, because that’s the only way it makes any kind of non-Earth sense? That the drunken astronomer with the frightening hair has a list of disasters is not disputed by the plot of the flick, even though it’s disputed by his only friend, played by poor Ben Mendelsson, until it’s way too late. Why he gets the list, since it ends up being profoundly irrelevant to what happens in the end, is never explained in a flick that spends the entirety of its length explaining itself again and again and again.

But it still makes no sense. It also doesn’t make sense that the filmmakers would try to pass off the Melbourne Museum over in Carlton, Melbourne University and Southbank as being New York or Boston. I don’t begrudge them doing this, because it means a few moments of excitement for the local peasantry when they come across location shoots, get to run around as crazy extras and get to see first hand millions of dollars being squandered on getting Cage’s dwindling hair and toupees to look just right.

Alex Proyas has made, as a good local boy, a tremendous leap into the A-list of big budget directors, having scored big hits with this utterly shithouse film and stuff like I, Robot. Good luck to him. He’s got such a healthy career that he can actually start dictating terms with producers as to locations for shooting, and can even crib from his own films in little homages to himself. I can’t be the only one to recognise certain shots from Knowing which clearly reference scenes from his other flicks like The Crow or Dark City, although I’m probably one of the sadder ones, since it means I have to own up to having watched The Crow dozens more times than any sane person should ever have. I am more than happy to have him continue to do his thing, and don’t begrudge him his success. But that doesn’t make the terrible plot to this flick stink any less than it does.

Cage runs around and around like a crazy thing, doing a whole heap of shit that doesn’t matter, but it’s supposed to have all this weighty significance, all of which is rendered pointless by the ending. Cage does these roles a lot. Someone, a lot of people, like putting him in these roles. For my money, he’s not good in them.

Cage is occasionally a human being worth watching in a role, but rarely. The main reason is, please bear with me, the difference between when Cage actually acts, and when he is actoring.

Actoring is not a real word, or at least it wasn’t until now. As of now, it is. For ever more I’m going to use it to encompass a certain kind of bad acting or overacting. To my mind it springs from having watched way too much Futurama.

There is an actor on Futurama, as in, a robot called Calculon who plays an actor and is a hammy actor par silicon excellence. His every actoring scene screams, sometimes literally, “I AM AN ACTOR!” to the extent where you can hear the uppercase over-enunciation with little trouble.

Cage, to me, is locked into this painful actoring mode which rarely allows him or us a moment’s peace. He is, ultimately, as good or bad here as he is in everything he does lately, although he doesn’t get to yell “HOW’D IT GET BURNED?” or “OH GOD NOT THE BEES” and “THEY’RE BREAKING MY LEGS” like he did in that most excellent Wicker Man remake a few year’s ago. But this film is no less terrible than that one, except perhaps for the ending.

Even then I’m not really sold on it. The film, in an almost embarrassed fashion, mixes elements both of science fiction and religion to posit a universe both bound by the random and the set in stone. When he steps in to stop events on the list, nothing varies at all, whether it be the actual occasion (recalling, for some reason, those Final Destination films that conjecture that Death will always have its way with us, somehow). The list, the fateful list, is useless in terms of obviating what has happened or is going to happen, but surely the beings with such power would not have elected to follow the course of action they do simply because it’s aiming towards giving Cage ample opportunity to overact all the other poor actors off the screen.

And as for those entities, they really could have done much better than find some vaguely Austrian / Swedish looking Eurovision Song Contest rejects to represent these entities, even if they are all sexy and blonde and leather clad.

I can’t say that I was disappointed, because I was expecting it to be shit. I didn’t expect the plot to be this horrible, or for something as serious as the potential destruction of the world to have so little resonance. Maybe I’m jaded, maybe I’ve seen it too often recently, again done crappily in flicks with parental characters trying to sort through their issues with their kids in the face of almost certain doom. (I’m looking at you, stupid Day the Earth Stood Still remake). Doom, DOOOOOMMM!!!!

But still, some part of me, even as it rejects everything this muddled film has to say, there’s something about what happens in this flick that still affects me on some level. Not the plot machinations, the apparent solution, the reaching for happy endings and closure and meaningless character arcs and the continuous, towards the end, ‘won’t someone please think of the children’ bullshit.

There is, with any of this world in peril stuff, a hint of some real danger to us, at least in part or collectively. When it’s complete bullshit, of course it doesn’t affect us, whether it’s Armageddon, James Bond or Independence Day. But the seed, the kernel of fear has to be there in the audience, or the storylines would be completely rejected and no-one would be making these kinds of shitfests the big earners at the box office that they are. The world in peril is Big Picture Stuff, meant to overcome all rational thought, and to place in us not only the what if? position of “what would you do if you heard the world was going to end?”, but to feel the fear of that magnitude of danger to us all.

Of course the filmmakers usually fail in their endeavours, more often than not, like they do here, and it seems to be that the magnitude of it all overwhelms their ability to think rationally instead of ours.

Don’t bother, really. Knowing isn’t worth knowing, or the two hours of your rapidly diminishing life.

3 reasons Cage’s hair is usually the gauge of whether a movie he’s in is worth watching or not– the more elaborate the attempts to hide the fact that he’s going bald, the worse the film usually is out of 10

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“Well, what do you believe?”
- “I think shit just happens. But that's just me.” – Knowing nothing, nothing at all.

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