‘Knowing’ director leaves nothing unknown

Joe Cramer

Science-fiction is a difficult genre to work in.  The suspension of disbelief required of the audience often condemns sci-fi films to box-office failure and cinematic obscurity.

Because of this, it is that much more important that the director have a unique vision and find some way to ground its extraordinary premise in realistic terms.  

Alex Proyas is one director who has consistently proven able to do this.  His new film, “Knowing,” starring Nicolas Cage and in theatres tomorrow, is about a teacher who uncovers a way to predict when major disasters will occur.

Upon discovering this, he and his son embark on a journey to find a way to prevent the end of the world.  

Proyas, a cinematic visionary behind some of the most creative and quietly influential films of the 1990’s, is no stranger to the science-fiction genre, as all of his major films have in some way been associated with supernatural or futuristic genre.  

Beginning his career as a music video director, he got his first big break in 1994 with the cult hit “The Crow,” a gothic action film about a slain man who comes back to life to avenge the murder of his fiancée. Following this, he directed the critically acclaimed science-fiction thriller “Dark City.” His most high profile gig came in 2004 when he directed the Will Smith vehicle “I, Robot,” a rare action film that underline its special effects with thought-provoking questions about human nature. 

Given this, it seems appropriate that he be the next director to try to breath life into the tired disaster movie subgenre.

Proyas recently spoke to the Villanovan about working on the film, his first in five years, and about what essential meaning he hopes people take away from it.  

Asked why he returns again and again to the sci-fi genre, he responded, “It’s really just my own personal sort of comfort design. I grew up on science fiction and it sort of really is part of my psyche creatively. And so I just feel very comfortable working within the genre.”

After making such an impact on the genre through his early classics, its fair to say that he found his niche relatively quickly.  

Moving on to “Knowing,” Proyas spoke about why he thinks apocalyptic films such as his own have become so popular in recent years: “When people live in uncertain times…I think everyone’s genuinely concerned, and movies are a reflection of that and a way of analyzing the situation in…dramatic form and helping us perhaps find a solution, or at worst, prepare ourselves.”  

While having the safety net of working in popular territory with “Knowing,” Proyas nevertheless wanted to differentiate his film from others on the subgenre, especially given that the similarly-themed “2012” (from “Independence Day” director Roland Emmerich) sees release this fall.

When asked what distinguished his film, he replied, “The one thing I wanted to do from day one was… to avoid a kind of glamorizing of the events. So I really wanted to make them as visceral and as real and as unsettling as possible…and that was a reaction against what I see as…Hollywood movies that glamorize [and] beautify disaster.”  

Not only does “Knowing,” differentiate itself from other apocalyptic films on this stylistic level, but according to Proyas, it also has a much deeper, spiritual meaning that underlines the chaos and action on screen.

“For me, the movie is…a spiritual question on the part of Nicolas Cage’s character. He starts off believing that the universe is a meaningless place that function son the basis of randomness and chaos and comes to realize that perhaps there is meaning to his life on earth.” 

For Proyas, making movies is about much more than putting special effects and action sequences on screen.

He enjoys probing the deeper implications of the stories he tells, and that is what he hopes comes through with “Knowing.”

“I want to make movies that…affect people in unique ways, and that’s what I’ve tried to do with this film.” 

Truly enduring science fiction films don’t strive to merely dazzle its audience with visual and cinematic splendor.

What sets films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Children of Men” apart from shallower attempts (“Doom” and “Babylon A.D. spring to mind) are their ability to challenge their audience with timely questions about the issues and experiences that humanity faces.

Perhaps, with a visionary and talented director like Proyas at the helm, “Knowing ” can look forward to joining their ranks when it opens tomorrow.