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Film / Knowing

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Are there things man is not meant to know?
"The numbers are the key to everything."
Dr. John Koestler

Knowing is a 2009 Science Fiction / Disaster Movie starring Nicolas Cage and Ben Mendelsohn and directed by Alex Proyas.

The film begins in 1959 with a girl named Lucinda Embry who is shown repeating seemingly random numbers. At the elementary school where she goes, her class makes a time capsule filled with various drawings and letters to the people of the future. Lucinda's contribution, however, is a piece of paper that simply has numbers written on it.

Fifty years later, the elementary school class of Dr. John Koestler's son, Caleb, opens up the capsule. Caleb finds Lucinda's piece of paper, taking it home with him, puzzled by the numbers. John begins obsessing over it, soon discovering the numbers are not random, but, rather, are the exact dates and death tolls of every major disaster in the past fifty years. These prove to be accurate for everything from hotel fires to 9/11. However, not all of these are for past events as there are a handful of predictions that haven't happened yet.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: Judging by the multiple ships we see, it seems like several couples of Adams and Eves in fact.
  • Alien Sky: The next world has two huge planets hanging overhead.
  • Angelic Aliens: The aliens seem to combine this with Energy Beings. They have wings and are glowing and kind of see-through.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class 6. The scientists were predicting the flare to wipe out all life through radiation, but it instead simply ignites the Earth and everything on it, including its atmosphere.
  • Apocalypse Wow: The shot of New York being enveloped by a wall of fire easily gives the similar scene in Independence Day a run for its money.
  • Artistic License – Physics: A commuter train derails and crashes for literally a full minute despite losing power as soon as it derails. Even worse, it obliterates numerous concrete columns and other trains like itself, yet somehow is only slightly damaged, compared to the carnage it causes. The reality is it would stop within a few feet after derailing and probably wouldn’t even make it into the station.
  • Artistic License – Space: Multiple scientists took umbrage with the fact that solar flares in real life do not work even remotely the way they do in the movie, as even the most powerful flares don't possess the strength to penetrate the magnetosphere, let alone the atmosphere (which is actually quite thick). Once scientist even compared the destruction of Earth to a "cosmic ray gun".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Straddles the line with a full on Downer Ending. The Earth is wiped completely clean of life when the solar flare ignites the atmosphere, though it's indicated that humanity will continue on a different world through the children collected by the aliens.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Diana drives a stolen car through a red light to be able to catch up to the "kidnappers" of the children, gets hit by a truck, and dies.
  • Chekhov's News: The expected solar flares are mentioned in the news report early on.
  • Children Are Innocent: Played straight, especially when it's mostly kids who hear the call of the angel/alien things to leave earth.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The aliens are completely inscrutable in their reasons, their decision to only save kids sounds creepier than it should be, their information has already driven one poor woman to madness, they are unstoppable, and the world ends in a way that is inescapable and utterly savage — a way that these aliens saw coming from many decades prior and did nothing about (other than give an incredibly vague warning that was utterly useless and depending on the audience's interpretation they may believe they even caused it), which again makes their decisions look even more inhuman.
  • Creepy Child: Lucinda, who wrote some ominous numbers which turned out to be dates, casualties and coordinates of multiple disasters from 1959 to 2009. She even scratches the last few on a door and gets her fingers bloodied. That being said, she was always kinda reclusive.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Practically Everyone. The final act sees anyone in the cast other than the children wiped out.
  • Dramatic Shattering: After going through the list of numbers and their respective fatal disasters, John eventually comes to the sequence of numbers 10/27/08/48; the date that his wife died. He drops his glass in shock when he realizes the numbers had predicted even that disaster.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: More like Earth-Boiling Ka-boom, but hey. It's pretty much the same result - Earth ends up a burned out, lifeless husk with no atmosphere.
  • Earth-Shattering Poster: As seen above, Earth dissolving into the numbers that drive the plot. And indeed, the numbers predict when the planet would burn into a crisp. It's even the image on said trope's page!
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The Earth burnt to a literal crisp definitely fits.
  • Energy Beings: It's never made clear if they were aliens or angels (given their ability to predict the future with great precision).
  • Face Death with Dignity: John and his family chose to spend their last moments in meaningful, loving embrace rather than futile panic.
  • Flatline: For Diana thanks to the traffic accident involving a truck, apparently caused by the Magical Defibrillator.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Through the whole film, the angels/aliens appear as humans... or at least try to. At the end of the film, they reveal their true form.
  • Gainax Ending: To say the ending is confusing is a vast understatement. The "Whisper People" have taken just the kids from all around the doomed planet and set them in another world, seemingly leaving them there.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: One could make a case that this is what's wrong with Lucinda. She could well have been a perfectly normal child before she met the "Whisper People".
  • Identical Granddaughter: Lucinda and Abby bear stark resemblances to each other, even in 2009, as dictated by Lara Robinson being cast for both roles.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: While all the other children on the planet presumably die, the only two kids who receive significant screen time, Abby and Caleb, survive the literal end of the world, as do around thirty others all kids.
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: All but literally. The aliens are just loaded with angelic imagery and John's whole situation with the information makes him look like a mad prophet.
  • Lecture as Exposition: This is probably the reason John is a college professor.
  • Look Both Ways: Diana overlooking the truck coming from her left while driving in a stolen SUV to chase after two folks who "took" her car with the kids in it.
  • MacGuffin: The black stones that apparently came from the place where the ship was stationed.
  • Magical Defibrillator: A weird version of this. The EKG is clearly showing v-fib (i.e. the thing you actually want to defibrillate) and the EMT administers defib, which correctly stops the heart. This, however, surprises the EMT somewhat, causing them to call the time of death without even attempting CPR.
  • Meaningful Name: Lucinda Embry bears remarkable similarity to the words 'lucid ember', another early allusion to the Earth burning to a crisp.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers made the movie sound like a story about a man trying to find out whether the future was fixed or if he could save people from the predicted disasters. Instead we got a lot of running around just to meet an alien Noah. The poster made it pretty clear in hindsight that the Earth would end up set on fire, though.
  • Oh, Crap!: As John and Diana would discover, EE (both "E"s are mirrored) means Everyone Else.
  • The Oner: The entire airplane crash sequence is shot in one take.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: "This isn't the end, son." "I know." John's father believes that there will be an afterlife, John knows that humanity will survive elsewhere.
  • Our Angels Are Different: It's not clear whether the "Whisper People" are angels, aliens or both. They have spaceships like aliens, and in one scene the wispy light around their bodies looks like wings, like angels. (Also the movie hints the final event is the second coming of Christ.) Whatever they are, they act creepy, mysterious, and threatening. They speak in whispers as their child given name implies, shoot light out of their mouths and tell of future events.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The only reason there's a plot at all is that the aliens/angels/whatever the hell they are were unable or unwilling to just tell everyone what was going to happen in plain English. Hell, even plain Latin or plain Ancient Egyptian would have been a sight more helpful than what the protagonist had to work with. Makes one wonder about their motives, really...
  • Red Herring:
    • Played straight every time the protagonist wants to stop a disaster from happening.
      • The numbers say that people will die in New York and the movie mentions how people in New York are scared about a possible terrorist attack. Koestler goes to the place where the attack will take place and sees a weird looking guy and chases him thinking he is a terrorist. Turns out the guy was stealing CDs, and then seconds later a subway train crashes and kills people like the numbers predicted.
      • While stuck in traffic, he works out that he's on the exact co-ordinates of the next disaster. He gets out of his car and walks to where the hold-up is; a stalled LPG tanker. Just when you're wondering how he's ever going to survive when the tanker explodes, a passenger airliner falls out of the sky behind him.
    • It appears John's car was destroyed in the plane crash but later he is shown driving the same car. It does get destroyed in the end though.
    • The design of the Whisper People is deliberately sinister. Their similarity in appearance to The Strangers from Dark City (also directed by Alex Proyas) cannot possibly be a coincidence.
  • Revolvers Are for Amateurs: John decides he needs a gun, and appears very inexperienced, to the point of methodically reading the manual, and then proceeding to run around with his finger on the trigger, in direct violation of the many, many safety warnings in the manual.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Lucinda's whole house, but particularly what John finds when he lifts up the bed.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Practically the whole damned movie, but that print of the 17th-century Matthäus Merian engraving marked Ezekiel I note  isn't just for show. Also, the ending turns this into an Adam and Eve Plot.
  • Science Hero: Dr. John Koestler.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: One of the biggest criticisms against the movie was that all of John's actions amount to zilch in the end. For all the good knowing the future did, he could have banged the hot leading lady and smoked a cigarette as the aliens took the kids and the world fried.
    John: I thought there was some purpose to all this. Why did I get this prediction if there's nothing I can do about it? How am I supposed to stop the end of the world?
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: This movie flips between the ideas of complete randomness and everything happening for a reason all too much (albeit confusing determinism with intelligent design).
  • Solar Flare Disaster: How the world is destroyed in the end.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Beethoven's 7th during the End of the World as We Know It? Hideki Anno would be impressed.
  • Throat Light: The luminescent aliens. One of them uses it to cause John to cover his eyes and escape as he's disoriented.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The film was released in March of 2009 and takes place in October of that same year.
  • Wham Shot: When John and Diana search Lucinda's home, they flip over her bed, revealing one phrase inscribed over and over on the back that explains what "EE" meant: Everyone Else.
  • World Tree: The tree in the closing scene.
  • Zeerust: The 1959 children's drawings of the year 2009.