As one of the few people who can speak confidently on higher mathematics AND popular trashy cinema, my heart always sinks whenever the lead in an action film is a maths academic. Its not that the ranks of professors and dons are not by nature action heroes, David Hilbert was a well known athletic rock climber and mountaineer after all. But the crossover between mathematics and action films is always so banal. Jeff Goldblum has essayed a number action mathmos, knocking out the aliens in Independence Day with a computer virus and working out the probability of things going wrong on Jurassic Park was VERY HIGH. Neither was a proper use of mathematics, neither swelled the ranks of undergraduate mathematics course.

Nicholas Cage is not a mathematician in Knowing, but he does end up playing with a lot of numbers. No instead he is an astronomer, in which he is as convincing as he was as a cursed motorcycle stunt rider or a man who could see a minute into the future. Knowing is a spooky thriller which turns into an odd action film and while you are watching it you allow it to spout the most ridiculous nonsense at you. But the moment you are away from its garish thrall you realise how absolutely terrible its premise is. (Almost bad as its poster which suggests the city is being menaced by a giant Nic Cage head). In the “lets see if we can make anything scare you” mix are thrown the following:
a) Spooky children (passé post J-Horror)
b) Scratchy fingernails
c) Kids gone mad
d) Mysterious numbers written in spooky handwriting
e) Numbers being the date of worldwide disasters* (which mainly occur near Nick Cage’s house)
f) Plane crashes
g) Train crashes
h) Another spooky kid
i) Car accidents, general panic
j) Aliums
If you find any of these things frightening, then chances are YOU ARE HUMAN. If you find any of them scary in Knowing then you probably drink too much Sunny D. The desperation shown by this film as a scary movie knows no bounds. The main bounds it should be respecting being the internal logic of the film. Because when you get to the end one thing bugs you more than anything else.

Q. Why did the aliums broadcast mysterious numbers into a childs head fifty years before the predicted destruction of earth IF when they were finally decoded we could do nothing about it? Really, why be mysterious, why even bother? To prepare for the last minute flying saucer rescue of Nick Cage Jnr? That’s leaving a bit to chance (though clearly not for aliums who can predict all major disasters (at least those which have a fixed temporal locus in time and a defined geographical positions – they don’t care about pandemics and famine). Its a film where numbers represent a code, which is then scary when broken, and then eventually means nothing. Perhaps the title has the key: What is the point in knowing when the world will end? What is the point in watching a film with that as a premise?

*The maths is yet again a Suduko puzzle, in as much as this string of numbers which Nic Cage starts to see a pattern is, are representations of Earthly codes. So he seems groups of numbers which represent a date, a time and a year in Western chronology. All the numbers are split by six digits. AND YET IT TAKES HIM TWENTY MORE MINUTES TO REALISE THAT THESE ARE LATITUDE AND LONGTITUDE REFERENCES. The fact that the whole thing turns out to be a pricktease at the end makes it almost worthwhile, just to punish Nic for being so stupid.