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KNOWING YOUR ATHEISTS - PART TWO
 

 

The colleague takes an understandably less credulous point of view. “Whoa,” he tells Cage’s character. “Just step back. Have another look at it! Systems that find meaning in numbers are a dime in dozen. Why? Because people see what they want to see.” In real life Koestler’s colleague would probably be correct. In the relevant chapter in his excellent 1974 book Broca’s Brain, the late Carl Sagan convincingly illustrates how coincidence in maths can be used to prove any point you’d like, especially when the people you are trying to convince don’t know any maths.

(This is an age-old tradition of course. In his 1872 book A Budget of Paradoxes Augustus de Morgan relates how a mathematician “proved” the existence to God to the famous French atheist encyclopaedist Diderot at the Russian court. “Sir, (a + bⁿ /n = x. Therefore God exists: reply!” the learned mathematician challenged Diderot. De Morgan recounts: “Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarrassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter arose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.”)

However, this being a Hollywood movie, rationality does not come into it because otherwise there would be no story after all. Thus John decides to investigate the few outstanding dates on the list and becomes a literal “tourist of doom” - much like those fake 9/11 tourist guy photos of a few years back – in the process. (The original photograph that circulated on the Internet was a snapshot of a tourist on top of the World Trade Center with an airliner in the background about to smash into it. It was a fake of course, and many spoofs of it followed.)

After witnessing a plane crash at Logan International Airport, and saving people from a freak New York Subway accident, John realizes that the numbers in this case do not lie. In these scenes the movie switches from being an episode of The Twilight Zone to cut-rate Roland Emmerich fare. The movie – directed by Alex Proyas who made his debut with The Crow in 1994 and went on to direct I, Robot starring Will Smith in 2004 amongst others – will undergo several more jarring shifts of tone over the course of its running time.

The question facing Koestler now is: just how did a schoolgirl from the ‘Fifties manage to accurately predict all these disasters?

"For some entertainment value rent the portentous 1981 Nostradamus documentary The Man Who Saw Tomorrow one day!"

(She has a much better track record than the famed Nostradamus. For some entertainment value rent the portentous 1981 Nostradamus documentary The Man Who Saw Tomorrow one day to see how many predictions the reputed seer managed to get wrong from the time the movie was made until today. Although to be fair not even the producers believed these predictions. At one point Orson Welles narrates that “before continuing, let me warn you now that these predictions of the future are not at all comforting - and I might go on to add that these visions of the past, these warnings of the future, are not the opinions of the producers of this film. They’re certainly not my opinions.” Ha-ha.)

Does the little girl seeing these visions have anything to do with the mysterious strangers who – in another jarring shift of tone – starts stalking John’s son, Caleb? Well, duh . . .

(Incidentally these shadowy strangers appear as if they had strolled in from Proyas’ 1998 cult flick Dark City – that is, if they dressed like Buffy’s Spike.)

Deciding to investigate further, John tracks down the little girl’s daughter, Diana (Rose Byrne) – now a full-grown woman with a daughter of her own named Abby (Lara Robinson, who plays both Abby and Lucinda). Initially Diana believes that John is stalking her – and you have to admit that the way he arranges an “accidental” meeting is border-line creepy – but soon realizes that he may be onto something. Together they unravel the truth: Lucinda’s final disaster which she prophesized is the mother of them all: one of the Sun’s solar flares will scorch the entire planet, killing all life in the process.

This being a major Hollywood production, one would expect the plot to head into either one of two directions: (a) Nicolas Cage’s character will somehow magically prevent the disaster from happening or (b) Cage and his cohorts will somehow manage to survive the impending apocalypse by hiding in a cave or something. Personally we thought that John would somehow “intercede” with God or whatever by deciding to Believe in God after all, a bit like in the lap of faith the man in Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice (Offret), takes.

Thus far Knowing has kicked off as a lesser Outer Limits episode before veering into Dark City territory and making a few detours in disaster movie territory. But it gets much goofier towards the end, which is a good thing because Knowing is pretty mundane throughout most of its running time coming across as a copy of The Number 23, the recent Jim Carrey movie about someone become obsessed with mathematical coincidences. It turns out – and here you must REALLY stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie yet – that the strangers stalking Cage’s character and his son are in fact angel-like aliens who have “chosen” John’s son to be saved from the upcoming apocalypse by whisking him (and by implication thousands of other children) away to a distant planet in their god-like UFOs.

In some of the final shops we have little Caleb running around in a veritable alien Garden of Eden towards a tree that looks like something out of The Fountain, but which is a clear – and over-the-top – reference to the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil. You know, the tree from which Eve coaxed Adam into eating an apple in the book of Genesis in the Christian Bible which got them kicked out of paradise and got us into this whole mess in the first place.

And the apocalypse? That all happens – the whole Earth is burnt to a cinder in some Roland Ememrich-lite sequences in which people riot and entire cityscapes are blown away. All set to some more Beethoven. What is peculiar about all this is that Caleb was whisked away to paradise (the aliens even boast diaphanous wings!) because he was “chosen,” but John is left behind to burn horribly to death. So dos only atheists buy it at the end of Knowing? Nope. John’s dad who is a dedicated clergyman also buys it, which made me wonder about those aliens in their spaceships. We only see them “rescuing” small children in one scene and I thought to myself if they were they the same aliens in Torchwood: Children of Earth who used children as drugs.

Muddled metaphysics aside – what is point of the Second Coming if believers get to stay behind along with non-believers? – there isn’t much really to recommend in Knowing aside from the ending. Sure, it is truly daffy, but it is also completely unexpected and when last did you see a Hollywood special effects blockbuster with a completely unexpected ending? Plus, we liked the Beethoven . . .

Still, atheists have loads to complain about. During the Cold War atheists were usually commie traitors in the heroes’ midst (see the 1966 Fantastic Voyage) and nowadays they are sad gits who are wrong about everything from the existence of ghosts and UFOs to Big Foot and the Yeti. Major characters may be scientific skeptics, but even they aren’t allowed to be atheists so as to be more sympathetic. The uber-sceptic Scully (Gillian Anderson) in The X-Files weren’t not only proven wrong in every X-Files episode (“see Scully, UFOs do exist”) she was, but she wasn’t even allowed to be an atheist. In the series she was a devout Catholic, probably the only “cool” religion in Hollywood horror and science fiction movies . . .

Richard Dawkins should sue Hollywood!


 



 

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