Review of Knowing (2009)

Moving picture, 121 minutes

An MIT physicist is tempted to take a teleological view of the world and strip paint off a door real fast.

An indiscriminate amalgamation of soft SF blockbuster and religiously themed horror, but genres are hardly relevant. The many failures of plausibility are hilarious, but that is not the only good reason to watch this film. The effects and cinematography are nice, and the intellectual meltdown is a beaut. On an extradiegetic level it’s very easy to understand: Somebody wanted disaster porn that does not offend contemporary mainstream US sensibilities by presupposing or conveying understanding of scientific methodology or the results of science.

On an intradiegetic level, the focus on disasters is never motivated; nothing is. Everything just runs on common extradiegetic desires, chiefly for spectacle, for a reboot of a civilization perceived as uncontrollable, for knowing the future, for perceiving meaning and purpose in everything, and for being important, but also for not being responsible when things go wrong, in spite of prescience and importance. It’s just a little bit self-conscious of the lack of script-level support for all this. A minor character in the film mentions that “people see what they want to see”, in reference to one of dozens of cognitive biases this film itself relies upon to get the job done, but that guy is a physicist who, as a scientist, feels disinclined to pursue testable predictions of great importance.

On a script level it’s “The Imagination of Disaster” (1965), Susan Sontag’s 1950s/1960s kitsch apocalypse cinema, but with modern tools, a budget and a more consciously dystopian context. The film maintains a myopic focus on the well-being of one’s immediate family, along with fear of strangers and of thought.

References here: Detwiller’s mathematical Mythos, The pulping of Delta Green, Oh, it’s a list of plot holes, Coherence (2013).

moving picture fiction