Awfully Good: Knowing

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

With Edgar Wright’s THE WORLD’S END and the Nicolas Cage drama FROZEN GROUND out this weekend, an end-of-the-world Nicolas Cage movie only makes sense.

Knowing (2009)

Director: Alex Proyas
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Liam Hemsworth

Only astrophysicist Nicolas Cage can use numbers to stop the end of the world!

KNOWING had potential. An intriguing Twilight Zone-y premise. A solid, if not interesting, lead actor in Nicolas Cage. And director Alex Proyas, the man responsible for THE CROW and DARK CITY. For the first third or so, the movie seemed to capitalize on all those things, taking its time to build up genuine mystery and intrigue. Then at some point in the middle it yells “Screw it!” and completely and hilariously collapses, devolving in to Nicolas Cage running around and acting like a crazy person by the end.

DRIVE SLIGHTLY IRRITATED, the sequel to DRIVE ANGRY, wasn’t as exciting.

[It’s almost impossible to talk about this movie without ruining the ending, so for the rest of this column beware of SPOILERS.] KNOWING opens in 1958 where an elementary school class is preparing a time capsule to be buried. One weird ass little girl starts hearing whispers and instead of drawing a picture for posterity like everyone else, furiously writes down a page full of seemingly random numbers. While the time capsule is getting sealed the next day, they find W.A.L.G. locked in a closet scratching at the door until her fingers bleed. Cool setup, right? The film then cuts to 50 years later, when the capsule is being unearthed and Nicolas Cage’s son receives the page of numbers and begins hearing whispers too. Cage, an MIT astrophysics professor and widowed father, takes one look at the paper, notices it says 9/11, and immediately cracks the code that the numerals give the date, location, and number of casualties for every major disaster in the last half century and some yet to come. It literally takes him five minutes to have it all mapped out on his whiteboard. (Thanks Google!) In the next five minutes, he’s managed to track down the girl’s teacher from 50 years earlier and confirms that she was indeed a weird ass little girl and probably knew the future.

“Are you a fan of NBA Jam? Because you’re on fire!”

Instead of doing the normal thing and using this information to make sure he and his son aren’t in those locations when disaster strikes, Cage decides to become Indiana Jones and save the world. When an airplane happens to crash right next to his car, he dashes in to the flaming rubble while the cops run away. Proyas does this sequence in a single take, which is cool on a technical level—except that Cage spends the entire shot awkwardly gawking at all the people on fire and not really helping them. He then drives to New York City so he can be helpless to stop a subway derailment. Again, this is a cool, fairly gruesome action scene thanks to Proyas, but the context around it is idiotic. (Cage essentially acts like a terrorist, leading police on a chase through the subway before it blows, and gets away scott free.) Eventually, he hooks up with Rose Byrne, the daughter of the weird ass little girl, and her own daughter, who also hears whispers. Eventually, Cage types a few things in to the computer and immediately comes up with a perfect CG model that predicts the sun will burn up the Earth later that day—the numbers’ final prediction.

“Stop, Drop, Roll and Hug The Fire” seemed counterintuitive to Nic, but that WAS what he was taught in fire safety class.

KNOWING—not to be confused with NEXT, the other movie where Nicolas Cage uses his powers of foresight to save the world—also has an unbelievably telegraphed twist ending: Aliens did it. (Just like that terrible Julianne Moore movie THE FORGOTTEN.) From the opening credits, which show the film’s locations at a bird’s eye view hovering from outer space, it’s obvious the movie will involve extraterrestrials. (In case you didn’t get it, the next scene is Nicolas Cage and his son, staring up at the sky and discussing how many planets in the universe can also support life.) I assumed that this would just be an apparent fact of the film, but it insists on playing up the mystery of who these strange humanoid people are that keep popping up, before getting to the end and being like “BOOM… aliens, bitches. Didn’t see that coming!” Yes, we did. My unborn children saw that one coming.


So—and this is where it really gets stupid—it turns out the aliens telepathically beamed down the numbers to select children they chose to survive the apocalypse, assuming they would somehow crack the code and show up to the right location. Before he has time to tell him about the birds and the bees, Cage lets his son and Rose Byrne’s daughter go with the strangers from outer space so they can repopulate the human race elsewhere. He goes home to his estranged parents’ house so he can be with his family for the end of the world. (When asked where his son is, Cage creepily says, “He’s safe now” and nobody questions it beyond that.) They hug as the Earth is cleansed with fire, conveniently moments after he arrives. Then we see Cage’s son and his new child bride-sex partner on some alien planet that looks like leftovers from Darren Aronofsky’s THE FOUNTAIN, left alone to awkwardly wait until after they both go through puberty. If the biblical connections aren’t apparent enough, KNOWING ends with them running toward a giant Tree of Life. In fact, the entire movie is thematically heavy handed, with Cage’s atheist science teacher coming to terms with his religious pastor father before the end of times. (Even the aliens have angel-like wings for one brief shot.) It kills me that all of the movie’s stupid coincidences and plot contrivances can be blamed on “it’s all fate!” instead of a really stupid script.

“Pardon me… do you have any Grey Poupon?”

And what kind of dick aliens are these? They know the world will end at least 50 years prior and are able to communicate telepathically and disguise themselves as humans. Yet they do nothing to warn us except send obscure numeric messages and hand out rocks—all so they can save a couple of white kids and rabbits? They have amazing technology and a fleet of gigantic spaceships but only have room for two people each? Dicks.

This is Nicolas Cage’s face when he actually receives a good script.

I know Nicolas Cage is a joke to most, but I still think he’s capable of a good performance. However, KNOWING isn’t doing him any favors. It’s not up to par with WICKER MAN, but here is a list of Nicolas Cage’s most “Nicolas Cage” moments in KNOWING:

  • Some amazing overacting and bad lines, like “The caves won’t save us! Nothing can!” and ” I keep seeing their faces… burning.” He also yells louder and louder as the film goes on. (Rose Byrne is also a champ at random screaming.)
  • Nicolas Cage runs past a guy on fire and just shouts, “Hey, hey!” In case the guy wasn’t aware his entire body was engulfed in flames.
  • Cage acting like a total idiot, calling the FBI to yell at them about the location of an attack the next day and telling them specifically how many people will die.
  • Cage deciding to singlehandedly stop the disasters himself. He goes up to a New York City cop, asks why the intersection hasn’t been sealed off due to the impending attack, and then takes off running in to the subway. There he begins profiling and chasing people he thinks might be terrorists.
  • Cage forgetting how to act like a human while having awkward conversations with Rose Byrne
  • Cage flashing his M.I.T. ID badge like he’s a cop
  • Cage knowing the world will end the next day and still making a pinky promise to his son that he won’t die
  • And Cage just generally being the worst dad ever. He constantly leaves his son unprotected while he goes off doing stupid things. Not the least of which is letting him go off with strange aliens at the end without any knowledge of what they want with him.


Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne’s best lines and overacting moments.

Some of the film’s more memorable scenes, including animals on fire, the plane and subway crash, and the stupid ending.

None. But here’s a picture of a young Liam Hemsworth for the ladies.

Roger Ebert gave this movie four stars! Buy it here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Someone or something is on fire
  • Somebody watches Nicolas Cage’s house
  • Nicolas Cage leaves his kid alone and unprotected
  • Nicolas Cage freaks out or yells
  • Someone gets a stone

Double shot if:

  • Nicolas Cage falls to his knees dramatically
  • The cops look in the wrong direction of a crashing plane

Thanks to Ryan S. and Garrett for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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