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July 7, 2009

Taking another look at Knowing

Knowing comes out on DVD today, so now is as good a time as any to take another look at this bizarre but intriguing sci-fi thriller, which was widely panned when it played in theatres (it currently rates a mere 32% at Rotten Tomatoes) but also earned raves from none other than Roger Ebert, who gave the film a four-star review, expanded on the movie's themes in a thoughtful blog post, and then wrote a follow-up piece wondering why so many of his colleagues had gone negative on the film. (Just for the record, I gave it three stars in my own review for CT Movies, and my colleague Brandon Fibbs gave it three-and-a-half.)

There's not a whole lot that can be said about the film without getting into serious spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the film concerns prophecy, on some level, and it uses biblical imagery at key points, in a way that some critics found awe-inspiring and other critics found cheesy beyond belief. Sonny Bunch of the Washington Times wondered at the time if the film got so many negative reviews because of the religious content itself -- though it should be noted that the film takes these images in directions that are quite different from what the Bible itself does with them.

As it happens, the movie's storyline is at least partly the work of Christian writers. Ryne Pearson, the novelist who wrote the first drafts of the script, is a Catholic and spoke to Angela Walker of Christians in Cinema, as well as Sr. Rose Pacatte, shortly after the movie came out. In those interviews, he hints at some of the changes that were made to the story by the director and other writers -- the controversial ending, for example, did not come from him -- and he talks about how he didn't set out to make a "message movie", but a movie that would explore the "natural" reactions that people might have if they knew that the end was near for them.

He also notes that the film leaves a lot of things open to interpretation. So, interpret away -- and feel free to offer your own take on the movie in the comments below. Does this film use biblical imagery in a positive way? Does it stray too far from the biblical purpose for this imagery? If you lived in the world of this movie, would the events depicted here support or undermine a biblical worldview? Do the film's departures from the Bible illuminate any aspect of the Bible that you hadn't really thought about before? Is this, as some say, just another silly religious flick, like the Left Behind movies? Or is it something deeper and more thought-provoking, as Ebert and others seemed to think?

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I raved over the film at the time, and wrote on at some crazy length about what I liked about it, even quoting you, Peter, in that essay:

In my conclusion, I summed up some of the things that stood out for me why I liked the film.

This is a frank film. The disasters are unflinchingly depicted, and while I enjoyed the brass that it took to so graphically display the events, the loss of human life was horrifying. The director, Proyas, didn’t pull any punches. In Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” one gets the feeling that the director wanted to show us D-Day in all its brutality for what it really was so the emotional impact in the conclusion of the film had appropriate heft. Ebert writes “Matt Damon, as Pvt. Ryan, exudes a different energy, because he has not been through the landing at Omaha Beach; as a paratrooper, he landed inland, and although he has seen action he has not gazed into the inferno.” It is as if the simple act of living a good and decent life is more harrowing, if less immediate, than enduring the crucible of death while storming the beach. In “Knowing,” the inferno comes in three distinct forms; sorrow at losing a loved one, terror of protecting (or not being able to fully protect) another loved one, and finally a literal inferno of such scope that it is literally unprecedented. And yet, despite all the dawning horror, the sudden and unexpected bouts with terror, and an inescapable and mounting dread, there is a core of hope and wonder in this film, a release valve if you will, that makes it all worthwhile.

But Proyas doesn’t make it easy. We all have our own journey, and we all have our own conditions of what we could define as victory. It was interesting to me that each character in the film had a different definition, and that what was a crowning moment of wonder and achievement for one was a moment of ultimate sacrifice and despair for another.

Setting aside the nit about the source of prophetic foretelling in the film, I was able to enjoy, and indeed, be caught up in, the film taken on its own terms.

Setting aside the quasi-spiritual hints in the film, the movie really seemed to me to be about the tenuousness of life, about keeping a short list of affairs. My favorite scene occurred in the denouement of the film, after the emotional climax, when the story was wrapping up. Proyas saved the biggest spectacle for last, after the primary events had been satisfied. There was a scene of ultimate dread juxtaposed with a scene of ultimate grace and peace and (dare I say) joy. The message I took away was that despite an increasing sense that history may be going in a different direction than we thought or hoped or expected, we can still find solace in taking care of unfinished business in our respective lives. That come what may, we can still find peace in the face of ultimate disaster, and that while we may come to realize that we control very little about our respective futures, we do control the choices we make in the present. Don’t waste the opportunity to make amends, for no one knows what tomorrow may bring with the next rising of the sun.

Hey, I rented the film, and watched it with delight. The film definately gets you thinking, and I liked the whole story--even the end. And no, that's not exactly how the Bible says things will be in the end, but this film was not claiming to be a biblical documentary on the end times. It's an entertaining, and thought-provoking end, that makes me want to make the most of each day! If you like sci-fi, you'll probably like this one, too. And if you are a Bible scholar, you'll appreciate the response that each character makes when they KNOW what is coming.