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Knowing with Nicolas Cage

Posted in Personal by Will on Saturday, August 29th, 2009 ~ 11pm

The film “Knowing” with Nicolas Cage actually made me feel ill. Perhaps I feel ill because I recently binged on some food that is now nearly out of me, or, it is because of major problems with the film:

(Be advised, I spoil the story in these comments.)

1. The film sets out with Nicolas Cage as the hero, a guy with a chance (thanks to extra intelligence and admirable strength) of figuring out a prophetic code and in so doing — one would expect — to avert a disaster. The film subverts the expectation that he will be a hero; he fails.* Subverting the expectation is an admirable goal for a film. But, the film is too lightweight to be worthy of this development. Mixing a popcorn movie with the lead character’s failure is simply not a palatable blend.

2. Additionally, the film takes one potentially realistic, serious element — that of a part of humanity being saved by strange, humanoid beings to repopulate the planet later on — and sticks it into a film that cannot handle that kind of idea. Again, an attempt to mix something too radical into a popcorn flick fails. Indeed, the film resorts to Christian mythology images in order to make the last act of the film seem possible, and this Christian imagery is used as a visual shorthand so that the film doesn’t have to convey any sort of explanation of its own making as to who the beings are or where (or when) they come from. And that is intellectually lazy.

Given that the two main failures of this film involve trying to put weighty story developments into a popcorn movie, it may be that the failure is actually the rest of the movie — the popcorn parts. If they’d been changed, would the weighty parts have worked? I suspect so.

The popcorn parts are entertaining. There are several smaller disasters prophecied which Cage’s character witnesses along the way to becoming a believer that an upcoming bigger prophecy may be real. Those smaller disasters are presented in the tradition of action movies, with state of the art special effects allowing for realistic city environments to be the setting of fast-flowing destruction, seen up-close and personal.

And perhaps that is where the planning of this film went wrong. If the initial smaller disasters had not been presented in the heart-racing style of a Die Hard action film, if they had, instead, been presented from a distance, a distance that would not have given the viewer adrenalin thrills but instead given them somber reflection on catastrophe, the tone of the film would have been consistent.

That the filmmakers chose to make the tones contrast indicates they hoped that the mixing of disparate tones would work. It simply did not.

* Footnote: It can be argued that Cage’s character did not fail entirely. He wanted to save his son. And his son lives. But I’d counter that his son’s salvation was not through anything Cage’s character did. The most that could be said is that he drops his kid off. But there was every indication that his son would have been picked up regardless, albeit without his father learning what would become of him. This is evident by the fact that the strange beings know where he lives (they visit his house more than a few times), and the boy even says that they can find him anywhere.

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  1. Rodney said,

    on September 5th, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Nice review. I loathed the movie and couldn’t figure out why. Despite some really gorgeous visuals it was awful. I also have a hard time seeing Nic Cage as any kind of hero, Although, I suppose he failed as a hero anyway – or did he? A friend of mine said she cried during the entire movie. The apocalyptic theme was just too much for her. I felt the movie’s “message” was “the end is coming and there’s nothing you can do. So there!”

  2. Will said,

    on September 5th, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    The best end-of-the-world film I’ve seen, besides Deep Impact (which was actually pretty good for a commercial film), was the Canadian film “Last Night” by Don McKellar. Totally low budget, simple story, but done well. Also with Sandra Oh before she was famous. Not to be confused with “About Last Night”!

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