Nicolas Cage seems to have found a niche role in the movies as the man who can unlock codes (National Treasure, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) or see into the future (Next). Now he’s combined those two abilities in the film Knowing, where he plays John Koestler, a professor of scientific theories at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
When a 50-year-old time capsule is unearthed at the elementary school his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) attends, the students and teachers find envelopes containing amateur, artistic predictions of the future. Yet the envelope Caleb receives is different. Written in a childish scrawl are rows and rows of presumably arbitrary numbers.
The paper intrigues John, a man who drinks excessively every night to deal with the recent death of his wife. Following a supposedly random act, his attention is drawn to a specific set of numbers on the page. Whether his inebriated state helps or not, John discovers a pattern among the digits that coincides with the dates and death tolls of major worldwide disasters from the past five decades. With chilling clarity, John also recognizes information about impending calamities and tries to warn the innocent victims. Among them are Diana (Rose Byrne) and Abby Wayland (Lara Robinson), the daughter and granddaughter of the somber schoolgirl (also played by Lara Robinson) who scribbled the mysterious figures.
But as John tries to explain his finding to a skeptical colleague (Ben Mendelsohn), his son Caleb is haunted by the frequent whisper of voices that only he seems able to hear. Several ominous, black-clad figures also show up unannounced at Caleb’s school, in his bedroom or lurking in the forest outside of the Koestler’s remote country home.
John’s obsession to break the code is intriguing and understandable for a man whose scientific and religious beliefs about the purpose of life have been called into question by his bereavement. However, the violent depictions of these tragedies are often excessive. Stunned passengers, many engulfed in flames, stumble away from the burning wreckage of a plane after it crashes into a field in front of hundreds of stalled motorists. Later an out-of-control train slams through the subway, mowing down hoards of bystanders, crushing numerous commuters and sending a rush of debris and dust wafting up from the underground passage. Those depictions, combined with brutal car crashes, terrorists’ threats and a kidnapping, all prove to be unsettling.
Mixing suspense and action, the film eventually wanders off into more philosophical realms as it tries to explain the meaning behind the prophecies. But the account becomes a convoluted, concoction of scientific calculations, new ageism and Biblical references.
For most of us, seeing into the future and knowing our end could be both a bane and a blessing, as it is for many of the characters in this story. But rather than spoiling the conclusion of this thriller, suffice it to say, most parents will gladly opt not to expose their offspring to the catastrophic future predicted in this film.