"Knowing" (2009)

"Knowing" (2009)
London, British Library MS Additional 42555, f. 76v. "Hell mouth."

spoiler warning

One day I was having a conversation with my friend Gerald. I haven't spoken to him in years—Gerald Song, if you read this, what's up. Thank you for helping me get that one adjuncting job and, now that I think about it, for swiping me into the subway in 2010.

I've got no memory of what we were talking about. But he mentioned having a movie on in the background while doing something else. I have the vaguest recollection of maybe talking about In a Lonely Place. What struck me however was the situation. It had never occurred to me to have a movie just playing on another screen while doing something else.

Cheating on one project while doing another is the primary mode I've always used to get things done. Got to file that piece? Wouldn't it be fun to read this other book instead...it's kind of like rebelling against yourself. This works at the most micro of levels, by which I mean I will do a first watch of a film for a film review while typing on my phone about something completely different. If I do it on my phone it's like I'm not working. I don't know why this works but it does.

To literally have two things entertaining me at once—instantly I embraced the concept. Ever since, or at least since I had the facilities to do it easily (I was never about to wire up the projector for this), I just have something on another screen going while I work.

Gerald always seemed to have watched every movie, and now I see why. You can chew through entire genres in a week; actually not chewing, just swallowing. When I have to really concentrate I put on "Naked and Afraid" because it's always the same—just greenery or water and naked people. They talk but it all kind of merges into one emergency conversation about dysentery or mosquitoes that smoothes out quite well.

Earlier this year I was watching '90s police procedurals. Right now I'm into the more esoteric super-mainstream thrillers. Watching Predator again kicked it off. It's so good! Then I watched Blade and Bone Tomahawk (not strictly in the genre but kind of)then had a little Kurt Russell moment. Have you seen Poseidon, the remake of The Poseidon Adventure? Strange maritime film. HBO has a lot of this stuff, the medium-high quality filler that seemed such a natural part of life before and now seem so profligate.

On this journey I encountered Knowing, a 2009 film starring Nicolas Cage. I can't stop talking about it. Don't read further if you don't want to know what happens. But there's kind of no reason to watch this movie unless you...knowing.

Nicolas Cage is a widowed professor at MIT with a floppy-haired little child. The child gets possession of an envelope from his school's time capsule, and in it is a piece of paper covered in numbers written there by a girl fifty years prior. Cage studies the paper and eventually some numbers jump out at him: 0911012996. That is, 9/11 and its death toll.

He realizes the paper is covered in the dates of major disasters and the number of the dead. His wife's hotel fire disaster is on it. Mysteriously it ends in the letters EE.

He finds the numbers-girl's daughter, Rose Byrne, who has her own daughter, who gets along with his kid. What ensues is an extraordinary genre mash that is sort of picturable as a combination of 2012 (why will nobody believe daddy?), Final Destination (oh shit, they're in traffic on one of the dates, and there's an oil tanker over there, but also a plane going past—which will it be?), and the Book of Revelation, which is about the end of the world.

Indeed, Knowing turns out to be about knowing that the Christian apocalypse is about to take place. EE, it seems, stands for "Everyone Else" (amazing) but is also to do with Ezekiel. The kids get taken off to found new planets by aliens who are perhaps the holy spirit(s). They descend from the heavens in a series of nested, rotating polyhedra which look just like early modern woodcuts.

Knowing is incredible for the fact that the movie continues after the children have been raptured, and you get to see Nic Cage experience the sun crumble the planet into atoms. Just amazing stuff—I don't think I know of much else post-Rapture fiction and I've just always wondered what the rivers of blood might look like. They weren't in it but it came close enough that the work I did while trying not to watch Knowing came out great.