Sunday, July 12, 2009


Sometime around the age of 12, I mustered up the courage to ask the minister of my church about the concept of theological determinism. I didn't call it that at age 12, of course; I recall being very nervous, very inarticulate and really goofy as I tried to explain how I saw the concept to be in conflict with the title Free Will Baptist, the denomination of church I attended at the time.

How could we humans have free will if life and everything in it is out of our control? He patted me smartly on the head, then told me I'd understand better when I grew up.

But he was wrong.

I generally squirmed in my seat during sermons about how life and everything in it was pre-set, and was controlled by an all-involved God who seemed to have management issues. That life and the events of life are determined and not simply random occurrences made little sense to me then, especially when the concept was applied to an unexpected death.

"It's God's will," they'd say, "and it was his time. We can't stop God's will. His death was God's way of reminding us to live right, live a full life and love the Lord."

Well, fuck that. I figured if God wanted me to live right and love him, he should figure out a less traumatic way to remind me.

Like visit me and tell me.

If God showed up in person once during my lifetime, did a small miracle and told me the bible was true, I'd believe him. But killing a friend of mine in order to scare me into service...well, that's just sick and twisted.

John Koestler was paid a visit.

Knowing's Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage, struggles with the debate too. The widower, single father and astrophysics professor at MIT thinks that "shit just happens," in life, and deals with it by drinking too much and avoiding his responsibilities. He knows he can't change the past or influence the future, so he simply hides in the moment. His house is falling apart and he doesn't notice. He forgets to pick up his son from school after a booze-induced afternoon nap. Koestler is simply going through the motions of his life: after all, he's not in charge of it, anyway.

Or is he?

Knowing shifts from a philosophical debate over determinism and randomness somewhere in mid-flick, when Koestler realizes the mysterious page of numbers he possesses is really a list of warnings about future catastrophes. The question Knowing then presents is: even if it's impossible to stop a pre-determined act or chain of events, can we influence events in some way.

The message of the movie is that we can. But to do so, we may have to change our definition of what we consider to be successful influence.

Knowing is shot in a digital format that seems to enhance color, and gives scenes a more realistic look than most film. While Cage's acting tends to cross the line into melodrama, this role is the best he's had in several years. The sci-fi aspects of Knowing are filmed with spectacular effects, and the moral dilemma Cage's character experiences in the finale is emotionally satisfying.

The ending, which suggest real peace comes from recognizing we have influence in how we choose to perceive and accept determined events, is dramatic and appropriate. Even if it's sad.

Sorta like real life.


Spike Nesmith said...

I was shocked that Ebert liked it so much. It had what I perceived to be such an overtly religious message and imagery in the second half, I watched the whole credits to see if Pat Robertson had funded it.

I'm with you on religion. Although I can't say for certain that there's *nothing* up there, I can say that my version of faith differs very much from what the so-called religious leaders tell me I should believe, or I'll be going straight to hell.

Anonymous said...

I actually really liked it. It does have religious overtones, however if aliens came in acted in the same manner wouldn't someone compare them to God's or angels?

primalscreamx said...

Interesting thoughts, dude. Religion, even one you don't practice, can be a chain you get tangled up in long after you stop believing.

The Film Geek said...

Spike: Ebert said it was one of the best, ever. Strange.

Bill: Agreed. And I've been tangled in that chain for years, as I'm guessing you've figured out. It's a fabric I can't seem to shed, even though I'd like to. It's been too important a system in my life (and in my community) to not be important. I just wish it wasn't.

Jelly-Filled said...

This is a great post. It reminds me of the first couple times I went to Baptist funerals after I moved to WV. Not what I was used to. I was shocked at all the hellfire and damnation preaching and was downright angry at the preachers for using a funeral to try to "win souls" instead of offering words of comfort for the families. I guess if death is perceived as a reminder for the rest of us, well, that explains what they were doing. Sorta.

The Film Geek said...

Thanks, JellyFilled. And here's hoping we don't have to hear any of those type sermons for a long, long time!