When I first heard about the film Knowing in 2002, I thought the concept was incredibly cool: A time capsule is buried at an elementary school to be opened 50 years later. When the day finally arrives, it is indeed opened and the drawings that the children had placed inside horrifyingly depict every major tragedy that has occurred in the past five decades -- and there is one drawing left.
Not only that, but Richard Kelly, the director of Donnie Darko -- one of my favorite movies of all-time --was working on the script and was going to direct. I was very excited to see the movie… but it kept encountering delays and eventually Kelly left the project and I forgot about it.
However, with the snow coming down and a free Showtime preview on my dish, there it was on the schedule, just begging to be watched. Sure it starred Nicolas Cage, who plays only two types of characters -- manic depressives and over-the-top manic -- and in both cases, monumentally stupid characters at that. But, nonetheless, I wanted to see what director Alex Proyas, who had helmed the underrated Dark City, had done with the cool story.
Disappointed much? You bet I was.
Although the story still has a time capsule, gone was the concept of children's drawings depicting disaster. Instead, one little girl, freshly cut from the now-requisite Samara mold of pale and sullen creepy kids, writes out a endless series of seemingly random numbers -- or are they?
Flash ahead to the opening of the time capsule, where Cage's son gets to open the envelope with the numbers. Although Cage spends the night in a drunken stupor, because the single dad still mourns the loss of his wife in a tragic fire, a portion of the numbers catches his eye. He writes these numbers on a dry erase board, but can't quite figure out why they seem to resonate with him -- is it 91-10-1? No, that's not it… Wait a minute! It's 9/11/01!
Right here the film starts to lose me… I'm actually fine with the idea that he might have seen 9/11/01 in the grid of numbers and then taken a closer look. But for him to decide to play with that particular string of numbers at random without recognizing it as an important date in history? Come on! It's not like he was staring at that day's Jumble and absent-mindedly found a word.
Nevertheless, Cage uses his Google skills to shockingly discover that this list of numbers actually contains a series of dates where tragedies took place, followed by the exact number of people who died in each disaster. I'll actually be generous here and throw the script-writers a bone, and let it slide that the "official number of victims" of many tragedies often changes from when the first news stories get written. There are far bigger fish to fry.
Cage, by the way, is a professor at MIT, so he's supposed to be a big smarty-pants. He shows his discovery to his colleague, best-friend and fellow smarty-pants along with the revelation that there are three tragedies left on the list (all conveniently forecast to occur within the next week) and is met with a resounding "you're nuts and seeing things because you're still in mourning over your wife's death."
Look, I'm not saying if faced with that situation in real life that I'd blindly buy in that this pattern was forecasting future doom. I'd probably assume someone was pulling an elaborate practical joke of some sort, but clearly there was no mistaking that there was a pattern there. The proper response from the guy who clearly understood that he was dealing with manic-depressive/manic Cage would have been to say that when the next date passed and the pattern was broken, would he please promise to seek some grief counseling.
Instead, he challenges Cage by pointing out that there were a whole lot of numbers that they didn't know the meaning of in between the dates, therefore the whole thing still seems random to him. Which is kind of like seeing a page full of seemingly random letter strings, having someone say that they've figured out that these are actually words in French and that you dismiss his theory as lunacy because although he identified "bonjour" and "aurevoir" he doesn’t know what the string of letters "savoirauncomplotmuets" means.
Anyway, the next day, Cage figures out what those other numbers mean. While driving to pick his son up from school, he gets stuck in a traffic jam and while sitting there, his gaze falls upon the GPS in his car. The "extra" numbers, he now realizes, are the location of the disaster, and he is sitting on the site of the one predicted for that day. He gets out of the car to see what is going on and a plane crashes right in front of him.
Again, I'm willing to accept this conceit for the purposes of the movie. It's the next step that makes no sense. Cage plugs in the numbers and figures out the exact street corner in New York City where the next disaster will occur. He then calls the FBI anonymously and tells them to clear the streets there, as a "terrorist attack" is imminent, gets in his car and drives to said street corner.
When he sees that it appears to be business as usual, he gets upset and walks up to a police officer and asks why they haven't shut down the intersection. The cop has no idea what he is talking about, and he angrily declares that he phoned in the warning, so why haven't they done anything. At which point she walkie-talkies "It's him" to a bevy of government agents who had been lurking nearby and a chase of sorts ensues, leading Cage into the subway… two trains crash, killing the expected number of people and fulfilling the prophecy, and Cage simply walks away.
The film only gets worse from here as the final predicted death toll is shown to be not "33" as written, but actually "EE" since we learn the young creepy girl often would write letters backwards, and in fact, stands for "Everybody Else." Yes, the final disaster is Armageddon, caused by deadly solar flares that, if they actually occurred as explained in the movie would not actually do the damage that it eventually does, killing everyone on the planet…
…Oh, except of course for Cage's son and the granddaughter of the creepy girl who are saved by being ushered away in a spaceship by a quartet of mute Spike-from-Buffy-looking aliens and brought to a new Eden-esque planet. Did I forget to mention that whole subplot?
I wish I could read one of Richard Kelly's drafts, but I fear that's trapped in a forgotten time capsule somewhere, never again to see the light of day. But since that is not to be, allow me to offer to you my own secret warning code: