As with the review, the first section will be light on spoilers, while the second will focus on details best not known going in. If you're at all interested in thoughtful science fiction with some great eye candy, I do encourage you to see the movie first. Then come back and read both parts.
Pearson had read my review here, and I'd done such research on him as I could, so we both came in with a little knowledge of each other. Ryne said I'd grabbed on to some aspects just right, and had other "takes" on the movie that were "unique"...which, er, not sure if that's a good thing....
We started to argue about whether Survivorman or Bear Grylls is better. Pearson observed that Survivorman would never permanently scar a brain with the image of squeezing elephant poo to get a drink of water.
Good point. Advantage = Survivorman, and Round One goes to Pearson. (My boys would have countered that Grylls doesn't spend the whole show whining about having to carry cameras around; Pearson could have retorted that that's because Stroud doesn't have a whole stinking crew carrying everything for him... it could have gotten ugly. But I digress.)
Then we started talking about the movie.
NOTE: recording equipment wasn't available; hence the lack of direct quotations.
Ryne Douglas Pearson began as a novelist— but not with a silky-smooth start. Before his first novel was accepted for publication, he racked up 139 rejections — and he's kept every one of them. His novel Simple Simon was developed into the Bruce Willis movie Mercury Rising. Ryne has worked on eight or nine screenplays, in addition to the five novels he has published. As proof that he is still interested in the novel-genre, Pearson is now working on a sixth to add to his ouvre. (Pearson would tell me that it also has elements of faith, is a "deep mystery" — and that's all he'd say!)
Knowing is based on Pearson's own original screenplay. It was taken up by writer-director Alex Proyas, who developed Pearson's story in a creative, unique manner. The three principle screenwriters were Pearson, Stiles White, and Juliet Snowden.
In Pearson's original screenplay, the events that drove the plot were assassinations, not disasters (you know this much from the trailers, so I don't rank it as a "spoiler").
Did Proyas commercialize the premise by focusing on spectacular disasters?
Pearson strongly believes that Proyas made the right decision. Pearson's script, if filmed as-was, would have been a more intimate affair focusing on the relationship of the father and the son. By taking the narrative in another, more spectacular direction, Proyas succeeded in bringing in broader audiences for a wider variety of reasons. But once the audience comes, it is the questions that arise from Pearson's story that they are asking and pondering.
Proyas was "smart" to go in that direction and (as he frequently said) Pearson "could not be more pleased."
So, was it a "message"-story?
In reply, Pearson alluded to Samuel Goldwyn's famous quip, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” He did not devise the story to send a message, and the movie was not concocted to send a message. The screenplay (and movie) were story-driven — but ultimate questions do necessarily arise from the tale. (More on that in the next section.)
So, similarly, with an array of elements in the story, including the Biblical allusions. Pearson has seen discussion of the story from Jewish as well as Christian (and other) perspectives, and he's delighted. Neither he nor Proyas were set on "beating anyone over the head" with a Message — or at least not with a specific take on the movie's central questions.
I told Pearson of my own movie-going experience as a longtime, convinced Christian. I told of the sense we all get as soon as we see a religious figure brought into a movie, as happens with Knowing. Most of the time, we know exactly where the story will go; and most of the time, we're right. But Knowing takes a different direction, which I found a pleasant surprise.
So, with that premise, I asked Pearson The Joss Whedon Question — that is, the question I would ask Whedon if ever I had a chance to interview him. (Whedon would probably lie, but I'd still ask him.) Here it is: Do you have close, ongoing, friendly, conversational relationships with any convinced, practicing, pedal-to-the-metal, Bible-believing Christians?
Pearson's reply was an instant, enthusiastic "Yes." He has "lots" of relationships with Christians, including friends who are "very, very evangelical." He himself is Roman Catholic, and recognizes the difference in perspectives; but he counts several Christians as "good friends," and respects them.
Pearson clearly is delighted with the end-product playing in theaters, "one hundred percent pleased" with where Proyas took his story. Pearson had to miss the movie premiere, and saw Knowing in a theater on opening day. Coming out of the movie, he was clearly tickled to hear all the discussions, all the audience debating and speculating about the meaning and significance of this or that aspect of the movie.
It has been interesting to note how polarizing the movie is, how diverse the reactions of the critics have been. We agreed that it's more than strange that so many lament the lack of "thoughtful" science fiction, in favor of violence and gore — and then when just such a movie comes out, they complain that it is too complex and "convoluted."
There is a designed ambiguity to the whole that is palpable but not frustrating. I would say that Knowing is like Sixth Sense, with a significant difference. As with Sixth Sense, the whole story can be taken in one of several ways. However, whereas Sixth Sense has an ending that frames and explains the whole, Knowing leaves that to the viewer. Plus, while Sixth Sense would only be a so-so story without that ending, Knowing tells an engrossing narrative in addition to provoking the questions it raises. But you, the viewer, provide the interpretive frame.
Ryne agreed with my suggestion that Knowing is something like a cinematical Rorshach test, in that what people "see" may or may not say much about the picture, but does say a lot about them.
I asked him if there was anything left over from his original screenplay that he wishes had made it to the movie? He say "Not really; I could not be more pleased" with the final product.
Before we move off to spoilier ground, I want to thank Ryne Pearson for taking the time to talk with us; it was a pleasure. Also, thanks to Tamara Brown, of Special Ops Media, for putting it together.
SpoileryThe short version is: I didn't get any of my specific what-does-this-mean questions answered. As I suspected, the ambiguity is designed and deliberate; it isn't a subtle (much less ham-fisted) way of saying ____.
For instance: were the beings at the end aliens, or angels? Someone asked asked screenwriter Juliet Snowden that question, and she answered, "I don't know — and if I did, I wouldn't tell!"
Pearson has loved the discussion and debate about all these aspects, and how spiritedly people are entering in. For instance, on the same question, one person insisted, "They can't be angels. Angels don't need space ships!"
And he was answered: "Yeah, but the kids aren't angels, and they do need something to move around in!"
I asked Pearson if he had himself supplied the various Biblical allusions, and Pearson said he hadn't. (I wonder which writer did, then.) Pearson had more general Biblical themes; and in his version, Nicolas Cage's character and his son are named Adam and Noah (in the movie it is John and Caleb, respectively).
In some ways, Ryne is noticing things as he watches along with us, which has to be a unique experience, for the creative father of the plot-seed. For instance, he hadn't noticed the van I mentioned with (I think) John 14:6 on it (someone else had told him), nor had his wife noticed the wings on the creatures at the end. Also, someone pointed out that when John "comes to," after his son is taken, everything is wet, as if he's been washed clean (baptized?). Like us, Pearson wants to see the movie again, to pick up on what he missed.
The scene in the movie he finds most moving is when Cage's character is reconciled to his pastor-father. When the pastor says, "This is not the end," and Cage replies, "I know," Pearson choked up.
An aside: this impressed me about Ryne Pearson. The element he's praising here is one he didn't create. So, in effect, he's extolling someone else's addition to his creation. A lot of bloated egos would have spent the interview griping and sniping about the foul scars some lesser light had left on his opus. There wasn't a whisper of that with Pearson.
Ryne did not sit down to write a "message" movie. The message and questions arise from the plot. The plot deals with the end of the world — and that naturally raises questions of "What does it all mean?" and "Is this all there is?"
People watch Knowing, and come out asking questions, speculating, debating.
Its creator, Ryne Pearson, couldn't be more pleased.
My thoughts. What do I make of a movie that is deliberately, designedly ambiguous, and that raises questions without providing answers?
- The reason I can live with the ambiguities of the movie is precisely because I don't see it as preachy. In fact, I thought (and Pearson confirms) that it is very deliberately not preachy. A few lines here, a scene or two there, and it easily could have been, and I would have hated it — but at each point, they don't.
- If the "message" of the movie were "Hey, nobody has answers, nobody can 'know'; what really matters is the questions," I'd have to resist the temptation to fire back a sharp, barnyard retort. But the movie does not preach that PoMo dribble.
- "Knowing" whether that glass is filled with milk or poison matters. Bring it to your lips, you've made a decision. Make a bad one, you're dead. Worldviews are no different; faith is no different.
- I think a savvy Christian could use this as a conversation-point. Here is a miserable man with a chaotic worldview — which is dead-wrong. He tries to seek help from a friend who also denies a determined future — who is also dead-wrong. Where does he end up? Back with his father, who does have a transcendent, objectively-based worldview and faith. That's not a conversation-starter? It is a classic Acts 17:23 situation, and we should be ready to make good use of it.
- What's more, here are people (and, ultimately, a whole world) running, seeking trying — and they are all ultimately overwhelmed and destroyed by an event far beyond their control.
- Meanwhile, here are helpless children, saved by a power from beyond them.
- The framework the movie does not (and cannot) give is that our doom will not come with a flare of the sun's mindless heat, but with an explosion of God's holy and just wrath (2 Peter 3:7-13). Our problem is not a soulless universe before which we are helpless pawns, but an infinite-personal God before whom we are guilty rebels (Romans 1:18-32).
- The answer the movie does not (and cannot) give is that we really are living on precisely the sort of edge Cage's character is when we meet him. He has no idea, but his doom is charging down a street that ends at his door. So it is with the world. "Repent," Jesus preached, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). It still is. As it was in the days of Noah (Pearson's original name for Caleb, the son who is taken), so it will be when God's open judgment falls on the world before the return of Christ (Matthew 24:36-44).
- The solution that the movie does not (and cannot) give is that God has already acted to accomplish salvation and deliverance for "the chosen ones." God the Son, Jesus Christ, took on human nature just so that He could satisfy the law we had broken, and just so that He could fulfill the righteousness we'd defiled, and just so that He could receive and absorb the righteous wrath of God in our place and in our stead (Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
- The certainty that the movie does not (and cannot) give is that there really is "something more." Jesus rose from the dead; He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). And so His perspective is that now "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). That is the "something more" awaiting every man and woman. We either live eternally in the joy and love of God; or we exist eternally under the wrath and judgment of God.
- The "knowing" that the movie does not (and cannot) give is that eternal life is to be had only through faith in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone, by the free gift of God alone. He is "the way, the truth, and the life," and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). So "whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12). But here's the good news:
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God
that you may know that you have eternal life"
(1 John 5:13)
that you may know that you have eternal life"
(1 John 5:13)
Now, that's a truth worth "Knowing." (For more, see here.)
Oh, and... Ryne?