Thursday, April 2, 2009

If Hollywood dramas were an accurate barometer of the efficacy of our education system, pretty American children would have colonized Mars by now and inadvertently found a cure for AIDS during a game of I, Spy played on the shuttle ride up there. Kids are pretty much always absurdly precocious in movies, and their innocence only adds to their brilliance. They can sense what you’re too old and world-weary to sense: Dead people, aliens, the pain of a sweet fawn hunted down in the forest. Knowing, the Nicholas Cage apocalypse drama, is no exception. Despite the title and Cage’s role as a widowed MIT astrophysicist, it’s the overachieving nine year olds that have the power to preserve humanity. Though keep in mind we’re referring to the same humanity that has continually served Nicholas Cage terrible, terrible scripts, bad judgment, and male pattern baldness verging on Lithgowian. So, uh, you decide the value of that.

The plot begins when Cage’s 9-year-old son, Caleb, brings home a page-long number sequence from a time capsule buried at his elementary school back in 1959. The page was scrawled out obsessively 50 years ago by an unnaturally pale girl named Lucinda (who really would have been put in a special ward for schizophrenia in ’59, but whatever, for the purposes of the film she went to public school). After partaking in the widower’s evening whiskey ritual, Cage drunkenly sets his glass down on the paper leaving a circular mark that allows him to see the pattern. It’s a doomsday calendar! Listing the dates of major disasters, the location coordinates, and the number of people killed. It conveniently begins after the Holocaust and conveniently excludes Vietnam, Sudan, and other war deaths, yet somehow includes the Arizona hotel fire that Cage’s wife died in years earlier that had a total death toll of, like, 40 people.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, the crazy girl Lucinda wasn’t crazy-- she was hearing alien voices, which were noted in the subtitled hearing-impaired screening I found myself in as “inaudible whispering.” (Note: If you’re hearing impaired I would suggest not seeing this film as half the movie and 100 percent of the suspense is the “inaudible whispering”) Cage’s son, Caleb, as it turns out can hear the alien whispering too. What’s scarier, the aliens aren’t some looming unseen, they look like Tilda Swanson in a bald cap, or my friend thought more like Spike from Buffy, and they drive around in a ’70 Chevrolet following Caleb, and leaving what turn out to be plot-meaningless black pebbles everywhere. Also, once they show Caleb a vision of doomsday that features a hilariously majestic CGI moose leaping out of the brush on fire, like a Lisa Frank folder in need of an exorcism.

At the same time, Cage is following the numbers to the sites of all these huge disasters. Essentially the movie becomes disaster porn, and nearly all of it in New York. Okay, I get it. Middle America can only stomach Hollywood tragedy in the location they visit for a weekend every five years.

Like in some other civilization dramas-- Contact, springs to mind, Cage, the once stubbornly atheistic scientist is awed into religious submission. It doesn't even matter if it's God or aliens by the end-- they're one in the same for all intents and purposes. The movie conflates Cage's new faith in determinism with his reconciliation with his preacher father, and devoutly religious family. Cage becomes a son again, and his son, Caleb, in some ways becomes a father. Science, in turn, becomes a myth, and not even a particularly helpful one. Note to astrophysicists: UR LIFE IS A LIE.

The lives which turn out not to be completely useless however, are those of two upper crust white kids, both from Lexington, Mass. who the aliens want to propagate the human race on the retired set of What (Wet) Dreams May Come. Good to know what higher beings value about the human race: PBS, Nantucket Nectars, and L.L. Bean.


Odoacer said...

"Okay, I get it. Middle America can only stomach Hollywood tragedy in the location they visit for a weekend every five years."

I thought the reason most disaster movies show extensive footage in New York, aside from the many iconic and recognizable works of architecture, was the fact that many people in the film industry have big ties with New York. And that New Yorkers (and Hollywood film makers) are so narcissistic that they believe when New York (or LA) is gone, so is the entire world.

Of course maybe I've perused too many conservative blogs that wish actual ruin upon New York, especially Manhattan.

Oh, and this guy appreciates the fact that you watched his movie.

Lauren Bans said...

Good point. It's probably a combination of both-- and the fact studios likely have a billion Time Square miniatures ready to blow up. I just know that if a movie blew up MN's Mall of America my parents would probably never go to MOA again, but when it's NY, it's okay because it's expected or something?

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