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
"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.
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!