(SPOILERS) Alex Proyas’ apocalyptic offering manages to be opaque in the best way, offering the viewer sufficient tools to arrive at a conclusion according to their own particular leanings. Albeit, perhaps not soaffirmative if they’re an avowed advocate of scientism. Even then, though, Knowing throws a few bones to the explicable in that regard. Unsurprisingly, it has become popular in Christian circles, with its appropriation of rapture imagery (and Ezekiel’s fiery chariot). While this is both a valid interpretation and one intended by the filmmaker, it would be a mistake to assume there aren’t other layers besides. Knowing leans strongly into Proyas’ earlier Dark City approach, whereby “The movies I love don’t preach to their audience, but allow them to come up with their own thoughts and allow them space to think”.
Of course, Dark City very much benefits from refraining from pinning down Proyas’ concepts. There, he had the idea the Strangers were aliens who seized hold of a human spaceship (bang go all the Flat Earth readings!) Surprisingly, generally moribund co-writer David Goyer’s purgatory preference is the one that offers more sustenance thematically. In Knowing, the premise of numbers foretelling disasters leading to the end of the world (buried in a time capsule in 1959) has a numerology vibe that has understandably been compared to the likes of The Bible Code. And the aliens/angels appearing in human form have some parallels with the Childhood’s End (in which they appear as devils).
Going by Proyas’ Dark City take, one would be inclined towards literalism about the alien reading of Knowing, the von Daniken impulse towards aliens being interpreted as gods or angels: “You know, it started off its life as a kind of supernatural story. And I aligned it much more to the science fiction genre, and tried to make it as credible as I could and also give it some real layers of meaning, which I think is really important for me”. But Proyas leaves things unsaid in that regard. Like why the Whisperers resemble Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the same question as why the Strangers in Dark City resemble Richard O’Brien). Before reverting to more ethereal androgyne beings. Are they really angels, or something more transhumanist in conception (with their infernal machines?)
Is it a coincidence that the realm Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) and Abby (Lara Robinson) are transported to resembles a virtual landscape of idyllic corn fields via CGI sheen? Is this an alien planet? Is it paradise? Or is it a technocratic illusion brought about by beings posing as aliens and deceiving the populace into thinking they are genuine ETs? This is, after all, explicitly invoked via a Karl Schwab-style reset, in which all the adults – those who have received the deadly jab/been wiped out by a solar flare from the, yes Pleiades, the home of the friendly channelled aliens, don’t you know – die and the children are carried off to pastures new: “They’ve chosen us so we can start over. So everything can start over”. The children heard the call – whispering in their minds – because they have been fed the technocratic transhumanist doctrine from birth, and can quickly be brainwashed into forgetting their old lives.
Despite Proyas’ comments, the picture is couched very much in terms of science failing to offer answers. Indeed, he notes of Nic Cage’s Professor John Koestler “he's someone who is a scientist, so he's very pragmatic, and he believes in logic, and the law of physics, and the world being a very kind of specific place. Then when he decides, discovers that it's not – he has a hard time compensating for that, and dealing with that”. Knowing opens – and uses it on its poster – with the very definition of science’s universal rules, a globe Earth sitting in infinite space, and John viewing Saturn’s rings through his telescope and preaching the gospel of “ten million possible worlds” of life out there to his son. He duly encourages his MIT students to regurgitate information on the Sun rather than interrogate concepts intelligently for themselves.
The movie presents John’s disposition – “There’s no greater meaning. There’s no purpose” – as a consequence of grief for his recently lost wife (“You don’t even believe in heaven” rebukes his son, to which he responds “I just said, I don’t know for sure. If you want to believe, you go ahead and believe”). But it’s also evident this comes from an entirely rationalist, materialist perspective in terms of education and profession. Proyas flags the duelling concepts of determinism (divine order) vs randomness (science). Rather than free will vs determinism as is customary philosophically; evidently, free will is off the menu. John’s background is one of rational rebellion, since his father (Alan Hopgood) is a minister; interestingly, in terms of the rapture message, the Godfearing preacher is not one of the chosen, yet sanguine about his fate (“If it’s my time, it’s my time. I’m ready whenever the good Lord calls me”). Maybe he’s simply escaped the transhumanist fakery.
His son, however, comes to the conclusion there is something more, even if that something more is simply angelic aliens. Eventually “We’re all going to be together”. His friend Professor Beckman (Ben Mendelsohn) is evidently wrong in his denouncing where John’s deliberations are leading him: because people see what they want to see and “Right now, my scientific mind is telling me to have nothing more to do with this. And yours should be too”.
If Beckman is wrong, there is a (disputed by professional scientists which surely means something) rational explanation on hand for what is happening, even if not for the time-capsule predictions. Super flares from the Pleiadean region are en route to Earth, and “A hundred micro-tesla more of radiation would destroy our ozone layer killing every organism on the planet”. It’s that or magical angelic intervention. Take your pick; the global flares gobbledegook is a sop to scientism, of course, because that’s what everyone worships today, more by default than by choice.
The real-world explanation for wiping out the population of the planet with a select few – or perhaps by selected regions and unselected youngsters – remaining is less down to freemasonic science’s definitions of universal operations and its multiple measures of 33 than the more prosaic discipline of the contents of a syringe willingly partaken by a swathe of ready dupes. Cattle to the slaughter. The key is in the title, of course. Choosing something else takes Knowing, although opting out doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be granted a free pass go onwards as one of the chosen.
Proyas’ movie boast decent performances all round. Cage is in earnest rather than eccentric mode. Rose Byrne is very much in a supporting role rather than co-lead. Canterbury is very good as the son, while Mendelsohn is – unusually – a relatively nice guy. Liam Hemsworth has a scene (the movie was shot in Australia). There’s a whole lot of CGI, and it would probably have been best to stint on the fiery moose and subway destruction derby. But if the effects are abundant, they aren’t actually intrusively bad for the most part. There’s good use of Beethoven’s Seventh – also well used in the underseen Photographing Fairies – during the scene of urban upheaval at the conclusion and the one-shot set piece that starts on a bridge and leads to a plane crash; the latter has something of The Mothman Prophecies about it.
Most recently, Proyas was critically slaughtered for the highly entertaining Gods of Egypt. He’s a consistently engaging director in philosophical terms, if never quite attaining the auteurial clout to knock it out of the park. Should anyone be around much longer to see it, I’m fairly certain, he has that capacity. Call it Knowing.