Friday, November 6, 2009



In 1959, an (apparently) emotionally disturbed little girl hears voices and scribbles down an inexplicable series of numbers on letter head. These numbers are buried in her Elementary School's time capsule, along with the letters and drawings of other students. This time capsule is to be opened by students of the school 50 years later (in 2009). As it happens, this parchment of numbers falls into the hands of an MIT physicist, who decodes the riddle. The string of numbers predicts the exact date, body count, latitude and logitude of every major worldwide disaster between 1959 and 2009. The final three disasters have not yet happen. They do. It turns out that the final disaster is the absolute end of the world. Our Sun is about to erupt and throw off a massive solar flare, which will destroy the Earth. A benevolent and technologically super-advanced alien race plans to save a small portion of the Earth's children and transplant them to ideal planet very similar to our Earth. It turns out that these numbers were a warning communicated from aliens to certain humans whose descendants would be chosen for survival.


Four stars is my final verdict. The movie gets off to a terrific start with fast paced 1st quarter. The 2nd quarter is plenty suspenseful as 2 of the 3 final prophecies are proven true. The movie bogs down, looses focus, and gets sloppy, in the 3rd quarter as the world descends into chaos in anticipation of the end. The movie has a moving, optimistic, and beautiful ending as the world's children are set free on their new home world; and Eden-esque planet very similar to our Earth. Truth be told, Nicolas Cage is not a good actor. He seems to be getting flatter with every new movie. He may be an A-Lister, but he is not good. The movie could have been upgraded 250% by substituting Liam Neeson for Nicholas Cage.

So why the title?

One of the most interesting questions about this movie is this "why name it Knowing?" Is this because the lead understands that the absolute end is coming? I doubt that.

Early the film, the director & writer(s) caught my attention with an introductory discourse on Determinism vs. Randomess. This is a grand ultimate philosophical argument which vexes cosmologists everywhere.

Determinism is the perspective that says that everything that exists now is the unavoidable outcome of events and natural laws. Given a series of natural events under natural laws, this is the only outcome that could have happened. God does not play dice, as Einstein once said. All the complexity we see is the result of incalculable quantities of events under natural law. If you ran the same string of events 1000 times, you wind up precisely here 1000 times, without fail. This notion is the backbone of Complexity theory, and it was the backbone of General Relativity.

Randomness is the counter-perspective. Not everything can be calculated. There is chaos and chance in all natural events. Laws are not as clean cut as people would like to presume they are. Shit just happens. If we ran the same quantity of incalculable events 1000 times, would not wind up here 1000 times out of 1000 times. There is randomness, chance and chaos in the system.

Determinism is a very nice idea for theoretical scientists. It means that we can have an absolutely predictive theory of everything. This makes the theoretician's work the most important work in the universe. When he is finished, we will be able to predict everything in the universe perfectly. What Godlike power that will be.

Randomness is better for the working scientist. These guys know you cannot perfectly accurately predict outcomes. They don't like the pressure of trying. They have been disapointed too many times in the past. They believe it is both impossible and unreasonable to expect 100% predictive accuracy. Estimates are better. Probabilities are better still. This is the backbone of Quantum Mechanics and Chaos theory.

Nicholas Cage comes down squarely on the side of Randomness. "Shit just happens" he says. "There is no grand ultimate design or purpose" he says. This puts him squarely in the camp of most atheistic working scientists. This is one of several mainstream views at MIT in Boston. It should be noted that his students grimaced and shuttered at the thought. They clearly didn't like that idea.

Unfortunately for Cage's character, he is confronted with this parchment containing numbers that predict every disaster for 50 years between 1959 and the end of the Earth. If you believe in Randomness, how do you explain that one?

Obviously, the ultimate point is that this is a Deterministic universe. The super advanced alien race has already figured that out. Using the correct theory of everything (the thing Hawking is groping around for) this alien race predicts all these disasters in the run up to the end. They obviously knew what was coming. They planned an prepared a rescue well in advance of that day. Lucky for us, eh?