Now on DVD: "Knowing" Balances Hope and Annihilation
Impending doom has a way of forcing us to re-evaluate our lives. Take John—an absentminded professor loves his son dearly, but still has trouble remembering that he needs to pick him up from school. The crises he and Caleb face help them forge stronger bonds, culminating in a semi-sacrificial farewell. John also patches things up with his estranged father.
Along the way, John and Caleb meet up with Diana, a thirtysomething single mom, and her daughter, Abby. Diana, like John, would do anything for her child. "Abby's all I got, John," she says. "I can't let anything happen to her." Both parents try to shield their children from discomfort and hurt—efforts that feel a bit counterproductive in the film's ethos, but their hearts are in the right place.
Let's get this out of the way right here: The movie does not end well—at least not in a conventional sense. Earth, and everything on it, gets zapped by a gigantic solar flare, leaving it a big, charred piece of space rubble.
I'm spoiling that ending to say that this weighty prospect prompts some profoundly spiritual musings—musings rooted more in a kind of Christian mysticism than anything truly biblical.
John is a widower, and he seems to have lost any semblance of faith after his wife died. She was reportedly killed in a hotel fire while John was grooming his front yard, and because he didn't feel any psychic pangs at the moment of her death, he decided there was no force looking out for anyone—that he and everyone around him were merely the result of a grand accident. During one of his lectures he asks his students to grapple with the theories of determinism and randomness and, while he lays out a pretty good case that "everything has purpose," he admits to his class that he's not buying it. "But that's just me," he says.
When his son asks him about the potential for life on other planets, John says that, for now, we appear to be alone—then amends his statement later to reassure Caleb he wasn't talking about heaven: "I just said we can't know for sure, that's all. If you want to believe, you go ahead and believe." When his sister, Grace, asks him what's wrong so she can pray for him, he answers her by saying, "Please. Don't."
The numbers on the paper shake John's belief in "randomness," of course. If a child could see the future with such uncanny accuracy, that must mean something knows what's going on. A fellow professor at first shrugs off the predictions as coincidence—a numerology trap that esoteric religions have dabbled in for millennia. "People see what they want to see in them," he says. But John becomes convinced there's something more to it.
From that point forward, the film chugs into a plot loaded with Christian imagery and creative license. Much of what we see plays around with Ezekiel's vision in the first chapter of his Old Testament book. The film's mysterious and ominous "whisper people" seem to loosely correspond with the angels described by the prophet (though none of them have heads of oxen or lions), and their mysterious craft looks like a representation of Ezekiel's wheel.
These angelic creatures haunt much of the film like shadows, whispering strange words into the children's brains and unveiling horrific images of the future. Paralyzing light spews from one being's mouth. But by the end, they're revealed as pretty good guys. Caleb tells his father that they, the whisper people, were "protecting us all along."
Are these creatures actually angels? Or are they extraterrestrial beings that Ezekiel long ago confused as angels? The film leaves it open to interpretation. Regardless, they do nothing to save the earth from impending doom, but rather sweep up chosen children and drop them off on a new, beautifully unspoiled planet with a gorgeous, silvery tree of life—a new crop of Adams and Eves destined to re-start humanity.
Interestingly—from a theological perspective—while these children are "chosen," they also must "choose." They are not taken by the whisper people. They decide for themselves whether to go or not.
Also worth noting is the fact that John's dad is a pastor. John reminds him of one of his sermons about prophesy. And then he tells his dad that he can now foretell the end of the world.
A mild, anatomical line involves a reference to "double-D's." A remark is made about somebody thinking somebody else was "gay." We see John's upper body in the shower.