Review: Knowing

This movie… It leaves me speechless. How can it hook my attention so much at the beggining and halfway through betray me like that? What the hell were you even thinking, Mr. Ebert? They totally blew it towards the end! Okay… must… breathe… deep… Much better! Sorry about that. It’s just that the beggining was really compelling, and I loved the movie halfway trhough, but it shifted directions halfway through towards the most disgusting manner possible. Also, the science was just bbbbaaaaddd. I will address two parts of this movie. Firstly, I will address the disgustingness of the film, and then, I will discuss how disgusting the science is.

spoiler alert!!!

Part 1: Overall disgustingness

The movie opens, there is this freaky girl who writes a bunch of numbers, it is put in a time capsule with the drawings of other children, and she is finally found scratching the door in a close. Sounds compelling, right? It is. The movie opens by giving you suspense, and when it lands on Professor Koestler, things really start getting exciting. They even give a theme to boot with: determinism versus randomness (although I have a problem with that itself, which I will address in the next part). Sure, Cage’s acting is not the best, and he overacts at times, sure the scenario seems weird, and sure, it was somewhat heavy handed. But it was something you could really be immersed in, trying to figure out what the heck was going on, admiring the CGI effects, wondering what disasters could strike next, what this meant for the character. But nnnnoooooooo, it had to be another stupid apocalypse movie. It was going to be caused by the sun (bad science alert!). Plus, you could tell by the various Biblical allusions that in the end, there was going to be some stupidly heavy handed God thingy, it always happens with movies having Christian themes.

Okay, let’s talk about the theme. It was about a universe with purpose and no purpose, plus, the professor, having lost his wife, believes that the universe has no purpose. Oh, and he doesn’t believe in God either. Wadayaknow, another bitter atheist stereotype. After he finds the list, though, he changes his mind about it and that’s it. Nothing more about the themes are explored. It seems like they used it just so that Christians could pat themselves in the back, affirming themselves on their beliefs. That bloody atheist finally got the message. That’s okay, except that the ending renders the whole thing meaningless, which I will talk about after.

Okay, my biggest criticism is with the whole apocalypse thing. The movie, being a thriller, all of the suddenly changes into this “let’s all get outta here” mood. Not only did it not fit with what was going on, the scenario turned it into a different movie. Instead of focusing on what could have been on the girl that had such predictive abilities, it went with basically Koestler and this other annoying woman into a laughable panic mode. Seriously, the second half of the movie makes you seriously consider whether both of these people are way too paranoid even within the context of the all too real apocalyptical future. Also, what’s up with those creepy men in black? They seemed to be involved in the whole thing. They don’t seem to be a threat, although they are certainly unnverving. Basically, someone put too much ideas into this movie. Anyways, I didn’t think it could be any lamer at this point…

But it did. It became so much lamer. I couldn’t believe it. I knew it would have something to do with God stuff, but I didn’t think it could be this lame. So, wanna know who God is? It is the freaking aliens… Aliens!!! The men in black are aliens, and *gasp* they are there for a reason. I got to say, after all of that, aliens is quiet disappointing.


(See, told you the aliens are god, both pics from the film)

So, what are the aliens’ spectacular plan? Send all the “chosen” children to safety to another planet. Nothing about this makes sense. So, they are telling me that aliens, with the ubber cool technology of predicting the future, can’t even shield the Earth from disasters? What’s the point of even starting again? Same thing is probably going to happen, with lots of diseases and suffering. Why did it have to be the chosen ones? I don’t know, the aliens just felt like they had to save a few selected kids. Why dump them in another planet in the middle of nowhere? *shrugs* Plus, notice the lame heavy handed symbolism at the end on the garden of Eden, as if life is going to be all perfect afterwards, trying to make the disaster that happened previously just not matter at all. Plus, this completely destroys the whole purpose theme. In the end, there were no purpose, just the whim of some aliens and the random chance of the sun blowing up the Earth. Unless it is suggesting that the aliens wanted everyone else to die… but for what purpose?

In the end, the second half felt like after a really fun date,  it betrayed me, broke up with me, and then stabbed me with a pointy knife with serrated edge. Actually, being cut with a saw is a more appropriate metaphor. Such an exciting beggining, such a disastrous ending. *sigh*

Part 2: Scientific Disgustingness

Firstly, I want to address philosophy and that of determinism. The movie states that determinism means that the future is set, it has a purpose, while there is another view in which “shit just happens” (quoted directly from the movie). I am wondering whether they couldn’t have had a few of their cronies google these stuffs up. Look here and here. Do they state anything about purpose? Even the theological answer to determinism doesn’t have anything to do with purpose. While the part in which the future is set is partly right, it does not convey the concept err…. exactly. Determinism has more to do with if things were set previously in certain ways, then a whole chain of events combined with the laws of nature causes the future to be a certain way. So, let’s say that I put every particle the way it was a day ago, then the same thing will happen today. Cause and effect, basically. Theologically, God has either preordained for things to occur this way by setting up everything before hand, or he know what is going to happen because he know what goes on in every single atom of this universe. If so, then “shit just happens” is another form of determinism, because previous events caused “shit just happens.” In fact, that is what one of Koestler’s student implies until the “reason” word is uttered. In fact, when he goes on to the fact that life is a series of chemical accidents, that is freaking determinism! Do’! So yeah, movie philosophy: FAIL. Seriously, they should hire goons to google stuff.

Okay, now to the science. The movie shows a super duper mega solar flare destroying the Earth (look at the top part of the poster):

Firstly, the first moment of the film has a reference on the Drake equation. Basically, it is an equation that tells you how many intelligent life there is based on probabilities like number of stars, planets that might have life, which one have intelligent life, how long they might last, etc. They act as if we know the exact number and know the exact factors of the probability. They come up with a number, 4 million I think it was. Wrong. It is just a device to speculate based on known and speculative probabilities. They don’t have a set number because we don’t know what those probabilities are. If the lenght that a civilization lasts, say it is 10 millenium until it destroys itself, then life could have very low probability. But once again, we don’t know that. Goodness, it is the opening scene for Koestler and he is already getting things wrong.

Then in his classroom, Koestler talks as if it is a super great coincidence that Earth is at the right distance from the sun to have life. No it’s not. Mars would be lively today if it weren’t for the fact that its atmosphere has been stripped away. Instead, he should have talked about things like how the Earth was large enough to retain an atmosphere and magnetic field, the fact that it has a relatively large moon due to a massive collision which stabilizes its orbit, or the question of how Venus had this horrible runaway greenhouse gas, and Earth didn’t. See? These are much more interesting questions.

Finally, I don’t think the sun can produce a flare of such magnitude. But I can say that if they would have chosen coronal mass ejection, it would have covered even wider ranges. Instead, it seems like the movie’s flare acts like a CME. Before that, the temperature is shown to be really hot in autumn. Well, sunspots do increase the temperature of the sun(cause the area around it is brighter than the average surface), but not that much. Even if such a flare could be produced, it wouldn’t precisely fry the Earth in its entirety. A flare causes pretty much a shower of particles. They cause the magnetic field of the Earth to distort, and overload the circuitry of pretty much every machine on Earth. But instead, he says that the sun will release a 100 microtesla of radiation. Tesla is a unit for magnetic fields, douchbag professor, not of energy. How did he ever get his PhD?!! If he would have talked of radiation energy, he should have talked about joules, wavelenght, frequency, or whatever. Besides, 100 microtesla is a strenght in the range of Earth’s magnetic field, much weaker than a fridge magent. Shame on you, professor. 

I don’t know if flares destroy ozones either, since I don’t know how energetic those particles and radiations are, but if a mega flare with highly energetic rays do happen, the ozone will be destroyed, but it won’t fry the Earth. What will happen is not only higher incidences of cancer and such, but the very base of the ecosystem, like the fundamental bacterias and planktons, will be destroyed by UV rays. Then the rest of the ecosystem will fall like dominoes until humans are affected, and everyone dies. So, they all should have died by a combination of fried tech and eco collapse. See? Reality makes much more interesting end of the world scenarios.

By the way, the manner in which they describe the super flare and its effects is more akin to a supernova or a gamma ray burst. Just as the movie’s megaflare, those radiations are able to sterilize life miles within the crust. Wouldn’t it have been so much cooler if, say the star Eta Carinae, would have exploded into a gamma ray burst and destroyed the Earth? Jeez, film makers, get a better science advisor, so that they can give you cooler ideas on how to destroy the Earth. I swear, whenever they make these disasters up, they never reach the potential of how awesome they could have really been if they would have actually listened to whoever is the science ADVISOR. You know, movie people, they advise you on stuff, you should listen to them more!

Book Citation:

Plait, Phil. Death from the Skies. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.

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