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Movie Review: Alex Proyas' Knowing (2009)


First published in the Cary News on April 28, 2009

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John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), a professor at MIT, knows which side of the debate he falls on when he teaches his students about choices. Are they random or determined? Stuff just happens, he tells his class. He tries to live his life accordingly. When he’s not teaching in class or taking care of his partially deaf son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), he drinks away his sorrows. He’s unhappy that his wife passed away in an accident and has taken a passive seat on the life bus. Although like everyone, he wants desperately to know that life isn’t a waste, his highest goal has become keeping his son “safe.” If stuff just happens, he won’t let anything happen to Caleb by keeping him home.

One day, something happens which challenges his beliefs to the core. His son’s school is opening the time capsule a class buried in 1959, 50 year ago. Each student gets to open a letter from a student describing the future. Out of all the letters possible, Caleb gets the most disturbing one, a letter covered with seemingly random numbers. During one of his typical drunken stupors, John studies the numbers carefully and decides the same thing that Richard Dreyfuss did in Close Encounters: “This means something.” Of course his confidantes all think he has lost his marbles, so John must seek out the truth in an alternate way. He finds a fitting colleague in the somewhat creepy, somewhat attractive Diana (Rose Byrne), who has a connection with the original creator of the letter Caleb opened from the time capsule.

This is a suspenseful story, part science fiction, part thriller, which will challenge viewers to decide what they believe in the aforementioned debate. And unlike the sensation we find in some suspense stories, viewers won’t have to suspend much belief to go along for the ride. John’s journey happens step be step, each event happening in perfectly logical order. Is John creating his own story or is he just following the steps laid out for him long ago?
Much of the story is laid out in cold, muted tones. We see how cold John’s life is through the lens of the director’s camera. When the tone finally changes to warm and bright on the screen, and it is oh so glorious to behold, we understand that John finally knows what he needs to do and is able to do it with 100% of his heart.

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