On “Knowing”

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” –Paul

“The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” –Ezekiel

(SPOILERS AHEAD) I just watched the recent Proyas film Knowing again with my seven-year-old son, Hal.  Within the first 30 minutes, prior to any big-scale CGI destruction, he had it pegged as a sci-fi film, and the strange men in black coats as aliens.  Later, at the first mention of solar flares, he predicted that humanity would have to go underground to survive.  A few minutes thereafter, and well ahead of the big reveal, he spoke up again saying that the whispering aliens were moving to save a select few breeding pairs to take to a safer planet.  How Hal followed the movie so closely, says nothing of the plot’s originality (it is quite original), but much about my son, and much about the mood and logic of the time he was born into.  As the film’s final shot faded, my son sighed, “I LOVE THIS MOVIE.”  The feeling’s mutual.

Movies about the possible confluence of science and religion, or of the brutally mundane and the dizzyingly otherworldly, tend to give subtly short shrift to one side of the equation or the other.  “Knowing” may be, in this regard, one of the most judicious movies I’ve ever seen.  On the one hand, the hero’s best friend is utterly believable as a sincere and legit scientist, rather than a movie cartoon of same as seen in a thousand other flicks–note his language, his humanity, and the curvature of his conversion.  Meanwhile, the religious awe that charges scenes of CGI violence and glory seems drawn from firsthand experience of that brand of awe.  Measure carefully Knowing‘s elements, and you’ll find its loyalties lie both with scientific rigor and with religious and apocalyptic feeling.  Director Alex Proyas says as much in the DVD’s special features, and having heard him say so, I know I’ve found in this director a kindred spirit.

If only the bulk of top-tier critics could say the same; I believe strongly (hehe) that they are blinded to star Nicolas Cage’s virtuosity, the skill of Marco Beltrami’s score, the directorial master touch, etc., all because these critics owe philosophical and emotional allegiance to a worldview that holds humanity as its own savior and the Earth as the final word in what constitutes a greater reality worth preserving. We have no gods to turn to, and no other world to hope for; therefore a movie like Knowing, they strongly believe (hehe), amounts to very dangerous and atavistic heresy–a fantasy that indulges our worst tendencies towards anti-intellectualism (someone out there will do the thinking and saving for us) and apathy (nobody can change the future, so nobody should try to save anything, and besides, there’s always another planet to move to after this one’s trashed).  In point of fact, the film is much more elegantly conceived than these objections would permit.  In one scene, Cage strives to prevent a catastrophe; his actions don’t dent the death toll but do clearly save a woman and her small child.  And while the whispering people of the movie clearly operate within the boundaries of a grand determinism, their actions are yet clearly sentient, inspired by compassion and a respect for human understanding–after all, when all is said and done, they seem to have gone to great lengths simply to guide a father and his son to the voluntary conclusion that they must, for a time, part ways, in order to give humanity the best possible new beginning.

I love the movie’s balanced view that reality comprises both unimaginably unnecessary-seeming destruction and some great beauty and design behind or above or one step ahead of the madness.  I love even more the idea of gods like the whispering angels/aliens of Knowing, who use their omniscience and omnipotence in the service of compassion and human free will, and who are themselves beholden to a grand design they cannot subvert.  Who watches the watchers?  Perhaps some great and violent Watchmaker, the beauty of whose purposes appears to us only in passing, as the fine-tuned placement of Earth’s orbit around the sun, or as the well-timed arrival of spinning orbs descending from the sky.  If we’re smart, we draw the connections, and form our own circles in response.  Wheels within wheels.  As it should be.  As it must.

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One Response to “On “Knowing””

  1. […] Knowing:  Check out my review here. […]

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