'Knowing' before it was known


Starring Nicholas Cage, Rose Byrne,
Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson

Directed by Alex Proyas

Rating: Q W E R T Y I U O P S R A T S 3 Z X C V B N M L K O U E W [it’s in here]

Archivists recently uncovered a time capsule that was hidden under the floor of The Colorado Statesman office. No one knows how long ago it was sealed (In fact, no one knew it was even there!). But it’s clear from its aged contents that it was a long time ago. In addition to the assorted contents that included numerous campaign buttons and bumper stickers (sorry, no tee-shirts) some of which date back to the time of Bush the First, was an envelope with just the words “Critic Man” written on it. (Critic Man was a former “alter ego” film critic of this award winning political weekly whose whereabouts are presently unknown.)

Inside was a folded piece of paper. On that paper were handwritten lines of letters, numbers and symbols. It looked like some kind of word-finder puzzle at first, but then no one was sure what to look for. Here’s a sampling:

A X B L K T E J N I W 3 2 0 2 0 0 9 P U B L W Z C C F Q Y M G H D S Y G R
E J A C B F $ Q X N K 7 S Y V * I D F T J H # G O B N S A Y O R P B F G I F
X L K I G Y U N B S W ^ A S R A T S 3 X U E W I K G H X Q M N R E N N T
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Q W E R T Y U I O P A S D F G X H J % L X C V B M S E S
[…continuing on for 45 more lines, filling the entire piece of unlined paper]

It was all very strange, especially as one would have expected an old film review or some unpublished work. No one could make any sense of it. Then, one night, a staffer for The Statesman, who was working late awaiting the last minute submission from the paper’s current critic so as to get the paper ready for publication, out of boredom examined the sheet of paper that was now tacked up on the wall. (No one had any better idea what to do with it.) He noticed something — a pattern that was not evident before.

He discerned that the numbers “3 2 0 2 0 0 9” could be a date, for March 20, 2009. Since Critic Man was a film critic, the staffer surmised that this might correspond to a movie’s release date. Checking with the Internet Movie Database’s Website he learned, to his amazement, that, sure enough, it was. On this date, a movie named Knowing was released starring Nicholas Cage and directed by Alex Proyas. When the staffer returned to the sheet of paper, he saw that a line had the letters “K N O W I N G” and down one edge was “A L E X” and another line had “S A Y O R P” or Proyas spelled backwards.

He was shocked and amazed — and a little frightened. After all, here was a document that was sealed long ago by a film critic that predicted the release of this film — a film that itself is about a piece of paper filled with nothing but lines of numbers that was sealed in a time capsule in the 1950s by a disturbed school girl that is later deciphered to predict major disasters that had happened since, as well as ones yet to come. In other words, Critic Man must have been possessed of special insights about a film with special insights — or, maybe he was just “special.”

The staffer then took Critic Man’s paper to other critical experts to have it analyzed. Here’s what was found.

It turns out that there were other words on the paper such as “S I G N S” laid out diagonally, “C L O S E E N C O U N T E R S O F T H E 3 R D K I N D,” “H G R I S I N G” (for Mercury Rising), “T H E D A Y A F T E R T O M O R R O W,” “N A T L T R E A S U R E,” “D E E P I M P A C T,” “D A Y T H E E A R T H S T O O D S T I L L” and more. These experts theorized that Critic Man was accurately identifying the various films that Knowing emulates and recalls. The film does, indeed, possess elements of all of these films — from the end of the world prophesying to young kids who have an affinity for numbers and aliens. These references are so obvious that they tend to distract the viewer and take one out of the movie at times.

They also found “C A G E & : S T A T E M E N T” with the letters “O V E R” in the line directly above it and the letters “U N D E R” precisely beneath it. The experts were amazed that Critic Man predicted this feature of Knowing — that is that Nicholas Cage’s acting tends to overstate things when the scene calls for the opposite and vice versa. In addition, there is heavily bombastic music at times when understated reverence is called for. Both Cage’s acting and the musical cues detract from the tone and mood of the film.

There were also the letters “H S A R C E N A L P R I A” along one line with the letters “A M A Z I N G” aligned down from the same “A” at the end, and “S U B W A Y W O W.” The reviewers were again taken aback that Critic Man knew that the film contains a harrowingly graphic plane crash that occurs right in front of Cage along a highway in the rain. It is quite affecting and ominous and is one of the calamities that the young girl predicted 50 years earlier. There is a similarly well-done and frightening scene involving a subway. These, naturally, freak out Cage’s character and challenge his scientific and religious beliefs.

Then they came across this series: “G E N E S I S 1 : 1 ; 2 : 9,” “E Z E K I E L 1 : 1,” and “R E V E L A T I O N S,” all obvious Bible references, juxtaposed with these obvious scientific references: “E = M C 2,” “D N A / R N A,” and “3 . 1 4 1 5 9 2 6 5 3 5...”. These clearly foretold of the religious metaphors in the film and the film’s struggle between faith and science. Cage’s faith in science is shaken by the evidence before his very eyes confirming the girl’s prophecies. This, along with the many visual depictions of Biblical references, brings up many philosophical issues about free will, determinism, creation myths, and whether the universe is random or has a purpose that is created by, or at least overseen by, larger forces. The Bible references in Critic Man’s paper are especially spooky as they refer to the very sections of the Bible that have references in the movie — that being the apocalypse, the “tree of knowledge,” Adam and Eve, and four “angles.”

There is a lot more, but this series of characters stood out: “C M : H O K E Y < T H O U G H T F U L L Y E T E R T A I N I N G.” The experts determined this was his bottom-line impression of the film — that its hokeyness was outweighed by the way it entertainingly and creatively presents its ideas. There was also this: “T O M A T O M E T E R S P L A T T !”. Astoundingly prescient, Critic Man somehow knew how other critics would view this film, as this is clearly a reference to the Rotten Tomatoes Web site, where this film is currently getting a rotten reception.

Maybe that can be explained by this, also from Critic Man’s paper: “# O U S P L OT [ ] s !”.

No matter how you spell it, Doug Young is an award-winning film critic. He received firstplace honors for his reviews in the humorous writing category in the Colorado Press Association’s 2008 annual competition.