Friday, March 20, 2009

Knowing - predeterminism or chance?

Knowing Box Art

Director: Alex Proyas, 2009.

What would you do if you knew a disaster was going to happen tomorrow? How would you respond? How would you live? Knowing an upcoming disaster is the premise of the new film from The Crow director Alex Proyas.

Knowing opens in 1959 where a time capsule is going to be buried for 50 years. While all the other kids draw their imagined visions of the future, spooky Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson) fills two pages with row upon row of random numbers. Clearly something is amiss.

Cut to 50 years later when the time capsule is retrieved. The present-day students each receive one of the drawings from 1959. Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury) gets the lucky numbers! Of course, his father happens to be recently widowed John Koestler (Nicholas Cage, National Treasure 2), an MIT Professor of Astrophysics and a pastor's kid. After drinking too much that evening, he looks at the numbers and makes a staggering discovery that he shares next day with another professor:
I know how this sounds, but I've mapped these numbers to the dates of every major global disaster from the last 50 years in perfect sequence. Earthquakes, fires, tsunamis . . . The next number on the chain predicts that tomorrow, somewhere on the planet, 81 people are going to die, in some kind of tragedy.
But this just causes him to be viewed as a nutcase, a little off his axis due to his grief.

Knowing Movie StillWith three events remaining, and just days for them to occur, Koestler has nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Since his wife died in one of the prior disasters and his son received the Nostradamus-like note, he believes he and his family are inextricably linked to the unfolding future.

But then he locates Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne, 28 Weeks Later), daughter of the "prophetess" Lucinda. Tracking her down, they become a team, both single parents with kids the same age, in trying to resolve this mystery.

Knowing has its good points and its bad points. On the positive side, it has an intriguing premise. The first two acts are intense with several moments of genuine suspense. And the disaster scenes are spectacular, not only in the action sequences but in their aftermath. In one scene, the survivors are seen in slow-motion, walking through the descending dust, like zombies in their shock. The relief at being alive juxtaposed with the guilt of being one of the survivors is evident.

Knowing Movie StillYet Knowing is heavily hamstrung by a cliched screenplay. Too much of the plot is convenient. There is little development of character. Koestler's backstory is mentioned and then left hanging. It would have been helpful to see more of his interaction with his family and his faith.

Moreover, the acting is plain vanilla. When was the last movie that Cage performed up to his potential, the potential that earned him an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas? He runs and shouts and acts all bothered, but any B-film lead could have done this. Australian Byrne, has little to do except scream and sob as the script gives her nothing to work with. Canterbury, as the young son, gives perhaps the best acting in this film.

Further, the film has an unsatisfying ending. As the third act begins, Knowing makes a turn that was unexpected but leads down a path that should have stopped much sooner. The denouement was trite and would have been better left to the viewers' imaginations.

Knowing has a number of biblical references. A picture from Ezekiel becomes a key plot device, and imagery of the wheels within wheels (Ezek. 1:15-18) was fascinating. There are references to the tree in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2-3). Koestler, himself, is a portrait of the Prodigal Son, returning to the waiting father (Lk. 15:11-32). With the death of his wife, he had turned away from the faith, if he had any in the first place. He had embraced chance and chaos theory, refuting determinism. At least, until he saw that events had been predicted and in some sense determined prior to their occurrence.

That brings us to the key theme of Knowing and its implications. Is determinism real? Are events predetermined, or in biblical terms, predestined? Many will say no, as Koestler did at first. Yet, the Bible is clear that God is sovereign (Dan. 4:25). Luke says, "From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the exact places where they should live" (Acts 17:26). The Lord predetermines those born, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart" (Jer. 1:5), and "for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). Predestination is a real theological premise.

So, is knowing events beforehand possible? The prophets of the Old Testament evidence that it is, if supernaturally revealed. Yet, apart from this it is unlikely. Even Jesus Christ, who will return one day in glory, told his disciples, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matt. 24:36). And after his resurrection, and just before he ascended back into heaven, he told them, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority" (Acts 1:7). There are things we are not supposed to know.

Knowing made me question if I would, or even could, change the future if I knew an event was going to happen. While Koestler knew that disaster was about to strike, this knowing did not help him to prevent it. Try as he might, he found it impossible. It seems to me that this would be true for us, too.

Finally, this film forced to think about things we should not be knowing. Knowing impending tragedies without the ability to do anything about them is one such thing. Knowing your death day is another. Though Diana knew the date (not the year) she would die, each year that date would have been preceded with trepidation lest this be the year. How would we live if we knew the date but not the year of our death? Would we live in readiness to meet Jesus? Or would we live in restless worry? Better to live this day as if it might be your last, fully and totally to the glory of God. And if he gives you one more, that is a blessing indeed.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

No comments:

Post a Comment