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Enough of Knowing

Movie title: Knowing (2009)
Spoilers ahead: No

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I am going to coin a phrase: “Atheists and Hollywood don't mix.” Hopefully, anyone who uses it from here on will give me credit for it, but I don't really care. The statement is true. That's the important thing. The movie industry runs the gamut with devotees of many beliefs represented, from Buddhism (Steven Seagal), to Judaism (Jackie Mason), to Christianity (too many to count), to mysticism (Roseanne Barr, Sandra Bernhard), to Scientology (Tom Cruise, John Travolta), and many other flavors, including a few atheists (Julia Sweeney, Kevin Bacon, and Ray Romano). But atheists never get to be atheists in movies, at least not credibly.

Hollywood has so very little atheist influence. The result of that is that when movies are made portraying us, we come off wrong—wrong and bent. It's the same junk every time. Atheist characters in movies are always closed-minded, hopeless cynics who won't believe something unless they can see it right then and there. They are usually tragedy-stricken introverts, thinkers who shake their fists in rebellion to a deity or the powers that be over some personal struggle or disappointment. Then, after an enlightening journey of self-reflection, they learn that there really is more to life and a reason to rejoice in the knowledge that there is something higher to look up to. Spare me the steaming piles of rhino terd!

These bad assumptions have always been wrong and they are wrong when done in Knowing, starring modern neanderthalic wonder Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, and Danielle Carter.

John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is a college professor, a smart man for sure, but he recently lost his wife. He's still grieving, as is Koestler's son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), a virtually mute boy who is a smart but innocent kid and has very little to say throughout the whole film. He loves the stars and bunnies. Note: I get so damn tired of seeing mute kids in films that have nothing substantial to add to the plot, but I'll save that rant for another time.

Through his son, Cage discovers a 50-year-old “time capsule” unveiled at school—a class project where students draw pictures of how they imagine the future will be and bury them in a vault to be opened some 50 years later. When the capsule is unearthed, one “picture” isn't a picture at all, but a complex numerical prediction that seems to predict world disasters. Though at first skeptical, Koestler begins to be confounded and then convinced by it.

But remember, Koestler is an atheist who believes there is no god and that there is no meaning to life. So just to show off his smart atheism and his educated status, he is seen lecturing his students on “the theory of determinism verses the theory of randomness.” The director should have sprung for a philosophy consultant rather than dig into his own noodle. He's got it wrong, much as the film does with its stereotypical misinformation about atheists.

In philosophy, determinism states that the chain of cause and effect is endlessly tied into an unbroken line of causes and effects. So every effect has a cause, ad infinitum. The result is, there is no freewill or chance. Everything happens because it had to happen that way. The concept is similar to predestination, but different in that predestination describes a definite (fixed) outcome at the planning and direction of a higher power. Determinism is unguided and unplanned. Freewill then must be contrasted to determinism, not a so-called “theory of randomness.” The Determinism vs. Freewill debate has nothing directly to do with the teleological question of our existence being guided or constructed by intelligent causes or not.

The way the discussion is used to hint at a universal “first cause” (or by implication, a creating god) is false. The dichotomy is, do we choose anything or are all of our decisions already “made” by the vast inter-connecting variables of life? But that isn't discussed. The professor's lecturing is just another (actually uninformed) way to drive home to the audience that Koestler is a closed-minded atheist who thinks everything happens out of “pure chaos.”

So, in case you missed it, the writers want you to know that Professor Koestler is hard-hearted and burned out on life. And his colleagues are just as skeptical as he is. He'll need to convince them that the anomalies he's onto aren't just random, but when he tries, they don't believe him but rationalize away everything he says. Those damn bone-headed atheists! They even admit the earth is exactly the right distance from the sun to house life and yet they still cling to their atheism! Oh, and let's not forget that Koestler's father Rev. Koestler (Alan Hopwood) is a minister whom Koestler is at odds with, evidently because he resents his father's Christian beliefs. It’s strange how I'm an atheist and I know not one other atheist who refuses to talk to his family simply because they are Christians, but I sure as heck know many atheists who have been disowned by Christians for being atheists. Well, I digress.

Such simplistic characterizations of atheists are, as stated, stereotypical and induce a smirk and a rolling of the eyes. The theme in Knowing is no different from the X-Files and any other presentation that involves a dispute between a believer of the supernatural and a non-believer—the skeptic always gets owned and shown that there is more out there! Utter crap, which isn't to be glossed over in light of the many other imperfections to be found.

With an especially scripted feel, the acting was wanting on everyone's part. The drama was cheap and flighty, despite played-up special affects and the Sylvia Browne-level, pseudo-scientific themes that so many love to harp on. Littered with numerology, what we have here is a UFO-inspired, toned-down version of the biblical apocalypse and rapture, replete with biblical themes—only those who hear the call may come! “No man can come unto me unless the father who hath sent me draw him and I will raise him up in the last day.” (John 6:45) Though not boring, it is underwhelming and largely unsatisfying.

And a plane crashing and people from the wreckage still alive and running around the ground on fire? Stupid. The story never quite manages to do anything but to barely hold interest, and for many of us, it doesn't even do that.

(JH)

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Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG
Summation: A man finds fifty-year-old predictions of a student to be warnings of coming disasters.
Director: Alex Proyas
Starring: Nicolas Cage “John Koestler,” Chandler Canterbury “Caleb Koestler,” Rose Byrne “Diana Wayland,” D.G. Maloney “The Stranger,” Lara Robinson “Lucinda Embry / Abby Wayland,” Nadia Townsend “Grace Koestler,” Alan Hopgood “Rev. Koestler,” Adrienne Pickering “Allison,” Joshua Long “Younger Caleb,” Danielle Carter “Miss Taylor (1959),” Alethea McGrath “Miss Taylor (2009)”
Genre: Action / Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller

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