may be a bunch of godless heathen infidels, but they really deserve better
than the bum rap they’ve been getting in Hollywood flicks such as
Knowing, starring Nicolas Cage and now available on DVD . . .
[Warning: This article contains plot spoilers. If you
haven’t seen Knowing yet and intend seeing it, then stop reading now.]
Knowing kicks off in 1959
with a primary school kid named Lucinda who “hears” voices. Lucinda is an
odd outsider and when the kids in her class are told to draw pictures of
what they imagine the future to be like in 50 years’ time, she doesn’t
draw a bunch of rocket ships on their way to long weekends on the moon and
commuters with jetpacks on their backs (they were a lot more optimistic
about the future in the 1950s). Nope, Lucinda just fills up her entire
page with random numbers.
You’d think that the teacher would insist that she draw
something nice instead seeing as all the pictures are to be sealed in a
time capsule, which will be re-opened in fifty years’ time, but no.
Lucinda’s page joins the rest of her class mate’s drawings.
Fast forward to 2009. The time capsule is re-opened and
the drawings are distributed amongst children currently enrolled at the
school. Lucinda’s paper is given to Caleb Koestler, played by the
10-year-old Chandler Canterbury. Note Caleb’s very biblical name.
According to Wikipedia Caleb was the son of Jephunneh and is “an important
figure in the Hebrew Bible, noted for his faith in God.”
There are loads of Koestlers, but the best-known one is
without a doubt Arthur Koestler – the prolific writer who is probably best
remembered today for dropping out of the German Communist Party in 1938
and writing several tracts expressing his disillusionment with Communism
thereafter. In 1983 – terminally ill with leukemia – he and his wife
committed suicide together. Koestler was an atheist.
Caleb’s dad is John Koestler, an astrophysicist who
teaches at the local college. Nicolas Cage – who is reportedly in tax
difficulties with the IRS, which explains why he is appearing in so many
movies nowadays (he needs the money!) – plays John. Cage’s performances
usually tend to be maniacal and frenetic. After all, who can forget his
over-the-top “we’re Italian – famous for singing, eating and making love!”
speech in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?
"Nic Cage's character tells his students that 'I think shit just
happens. But that's me . . .'"
Cage’s performance in Knowing however veers towards the
other extreme: he is positively catatonic throughout Knowing. This
is not a criticism however. One can understand Cage’s performance choice.
After all, John Koestler has recently lost his wife in a senseless, random
manner involving a hotel fire. (On a business trip she suffocated to death
in her hotel room. John – oblivious to it all – was sweeping leaves at
When we meet John we know that he is in mourning because
he spends a lot of time listening to classical music, in particular
Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and as we know from previous movies “happy”
people never listens to classical music. (An example? In Steven
Spielberg’s 2002 Minority Report the cop
played by Tom Cruise who is distraught by the disappearance of his son
also listens to a lot of classical music. Tchaikovsky and Schubert in this
Early on in the movie Cage’s character explains the
difference between determinism and randomness to his students. Determinism
means that everything has been predetermined somehow and that there are no
coincidences. It is usually a religious argument: God has a Plan (capital
letter ‘P’) for us all. We may not know what it is, but He does have one.
To illustrate the case for Determinism, Cage asks why is it that Earth is
exactly the right distance from the sun for life to have evolved, unlike
the other planets in our solar system which are either too close or too
far away. Coincidence? Or divine plan?
the other hand we have the irreligious “everything is random” argument.
There may be natural laws governing our everyday existence (such as
gravity), but everything is purely random. Such as for instance John’s
wife dying in the hotel room. There is no Grand Plan and there probably is
no God either. For adherents of this theory, all religion is built on
coincidence. When one of his students asks what he believes, John replies:
“I think shit just happens. But that's me . . .”
(Another famous adherent to the “shit happens” school of
thought is Rorschach in the original 1987
novel. He tells his shrink that “existence is random, has no pattern save
what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we
choose to impose.” In the movie he comes across as less extreme: “You see,
Doctor, God didn't kill that little girl. Fate didn't butcher her and
destiny didn't feed her to those dogs. If God saw what any of us did that
night he didn't seem to mind. From then on I knew... God doesn't make the
world this way. We do.”)
Instead of throwing away the page filled with seemingly
random numbers, one night whilst boozing and listening to Beethoven (we
told you that in Hollywood happy people don’t listen to classical music!)
Cage’s character realizes that the numbers aren’t really random at all.
They are in fact dates of major disasters over the past 50 years followed
by a body count number and some handy Latitude and Longitude co-ordinates.
For a skeptic, John is quickly convinced that a mentally
disturbed girl from the late-1950s did somehow manage to predict the
future. “I know how this sounds,” he tells a colleague, “but I've mapped
these numbers to the dates of every major global disaster from the last 50
years in perfect sequence. Earthquakes, fires, tsunamis... The next number
on the chain predicts that tomorrow, somewhere on the planet, 81 people
are going to die, in some kind of tragedy.”
Next: "Sir, (a
+ bⁿ /n = x. Therefore God exists!"