The dead rise from the grave. The sky turns red as blood. Straggling survivors seek shelter and struggle to survive. Since we’ve been telling stories around campfires to our latest modern cinematic marvels, it seems the end of the world just won’t die. KNOWING Director Alex Proyas says “it touches on something in our psyche that resonates in some way. It feels true.”
(For the introduction to our series on KNOWING, click here)
From Steven King’s The Stand to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, from Night of the Living Dead to World War Z, and as The Last Man on Earth determines I am Legend, the apocalypse features prominently in our theatrical landscape. There were quite a few bleak future films in the late 90s (most memorably The Matrix) as the zeitgeist of Y2K fed our paranoia. When the world survived the arrival of double zeroes, however, one might have thought end-of-world tales would wane.
Still, with global warming ushering in The Day After Tomorrow, the Mayan long-count calendar ending in 2012, and Planet X lurking about waiting to smash into the earth, it seems there is plenty of cataclysm left to go around and plenty more IMAXian viewings in which to declare its inevitability. That’s why we’re all hoping John Connor will be our (Terminator) Salvation.
John Koestler: How am I supposed to stop the end of the world?
The film KNOWING is curious here a it’s title can be taken several ways, and I think its meaning is multi-faceted as Proyas’ quote alludes to the fact that the Omega to our Alpha seems to ring true. In the film, John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is faced with evidence that suggests determined cataclysms, escalating to what may be the end of all life on planet earth. We dealt with the idea of determinism in our first post, but the notion of world’s end is something that also bounces around the human psyche. We even anthropomorphize and like to imagine that a singular, meteoric event killed all the dinosaurs – a world-ending event for a very different world – whereas modern studies indicate many factors (volcanoes, climate change, and a meteor or two) eliminated various species over time and not just Chicxulub. Now, with recent reports about solar maximum escalating sunspots and other activities in late 2012… we have a new target date to freak out about.
The question is, what IS real? Is our underlying fascination and dread regarding the end of the world just our own mortality projected (i.e. the end of MY world, I die and “the world” ceases)? Or… IS there something in us, as creatures of story and narrative, that knows intuitively our world will end in fire and cataclysm? Does our “knowing” run this deep, a chord struck within us where we know the story of life and this planet have a terminus? A movie like KNOWING plays on these fears, but before movies were surfacing fears of global upheaval, the book of Revelation was trumpeting it louder:
“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood… the sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
I think there is more here than our own personal mortality at play in these world ending scenarios. We might argue over whether it is the dead returning, Ragnarok, a global pandemic, or the earth bathed in fire, we have a spiritual connection to doomsday that must be addressed. If there is an end-time event lurking in our spiritual understanding with world-breaking consequences, how should we prepare? Should we try to stop armageddon? Is there something we need to DO? Is there something we need to know? SomeONE?
John Koestler assumes that he can, or should, do something to stop it… but what if that same force that has determined beginnings and endings has already determined a plan? What if we can’t stop it, yet we can be saved from it?
KNOWING explored these ideas with a daring and bravery I found refreshing, not the naive optimism that pervades many movies and often provides a pat answer. Some even found it blatantly Christian and railed against it for doing so. Even MORE, the film not only explores the idea of determinism and pending apocalypse with a sci-fi bent, it touches down on the recurring theme of being “chosen” as we’ll see next time (warning: part 3 will inevitably contain spoilers).