Theological Themes in “Knowing” (2009)

Knowing is a fascinating movie about foreknowledge, determinism, and the end of the world. If you have not seen it, then I highly recommend that you watch it before you read this review. That could be said about any of my reviews, but in this case it is especially true. It has a great “wow” moment at the end which you will not fully appreciate if you already know what will happen.

Plot Summary

The story begins outside William Dawes Elementary School in Lexington, MA in 1959. A young girl (Lucinda Embry) listens to whispers with a worried, and possibly painful, expression on her face. The other children play, seemingly oblivious to the whispers.

Later that day in class, Lucinda’s teacher Miss Taylor announces that the school will bury a time capsule to officially dedicate their school. She asks each student to draw what they think the future will look like. The time capsule will be unburied for children to view in fifty years. Some children draw spaceships and robots, but Lucinda only writes a series of numbers. Each drawing is placed in an envelope and then into the capsule. As two men bury the capsule, Lucinda watches with the same worried expression. A teacher then notices she has disappeared. Police search the school. Miss Taylor finds her in a basement closet scratching the door with bloody fingers. She begs her teacher to make the whispers stop.

Fifty years later, John Koestler is looking through his telescope at Saturn’s rings and invites his son Caleb to look. They discuss the probability of alien life. When he puts Caleb to bed, John says they cannot be sure about the existence of heaven and where Caleb’s mother is, but he tells Caleb to believe if he wants to believe. John then sits alone with a drink and looks at a decorated box with a pained expression.

The next day, John’s class at MIT discusses determinism vs. randomness in the universe and what caused the sun to have the correct distance from Earth, thereby making life possible. Was it determined, or was it random? When a student asks John what he believes, he says, “I think $%# just happens, but that’s me” [0:16:04].

After John dismisses his class he goes to William Dawes Elementary to watch them unbury the time capsule. As children each receive an envelope from the capsule, Caleb hears a high-pitched sound and whispers which no one else hears. He receives Lucinda’s envelope. After he opens it and looks at the numbers, he sees a man in dark clothes watching him from a distance at the edge of a forest.

That night Caleb says his hearing aid is making funny noises. John notices Caleb brought home the sheet of numbers. Caleb thinks it might mean something. After Caleb goes to bed, John accidentally sets wet glass on the paper, making a ring. He notices the sequence 911012996, which he divides into 9/11/01/2996. He checks online and discovers that 2,996 people died on 9/11/01. He then discovers more such patterns indicating dates and how many people died and confirms these predictions through online research.

While at work he shows the sequences which he has circled to Phil Beckman and explains that the sequences predict every major disaster for the past fifty years and how many people died (including the time John’s wife died). The last three sequences, however, indicate disasters which have not yet occurred. Phil points out numbers which are not circled, but John does not know what they mean. Phil thinks John is seeing patterns that are not there.

John then meets with Miss Taylor who first announced the capsule to her class. He shows her Lucinda’s paper with numbers and asks to meet her, but Taylor says Lucinda died several years ago.

While at home, as John attempts to contact the janitors who unburied the capsule, Caleb is kicking a ball in the front yard. Two men in a car stop in front of the house. Caleb hears whispers and high-pitched noises and then runs to the car. One man gives him a small black stone. When John sees them through the window he runs out of the house, thinking Caleb is in danger from the men. He warns Caleb about talking to strangers.

While John researches Lucinda Emory’s death, his sister Grace arrives. She says their parents miss seeing him, but John does not like being a pastor’s son. That night he watches news reports about the economy, solar flares which will interfere with cellular communications, and a fire in the Gulf of Mexico.

The next day while on the way to pick up Caleb from school, John is caught in a traffic jam caused by a traffic accident. He checks his GPS for alternate routes but finds none. He notices his GPS coordinates and checks Lucinda’s paper. He realizes that the uncircled numbers are locations and that he is at the location for a disaster which will allegedly occur on that day as predicted on Lucinda’s paper. A commercial plane then crashes in the field next to the road after scraping its wing across the road and damaging several vehicles. John runs to the crash site and tries to help the survivors.

When he arrives at home, a news story on the TV reports that an estimated 81 people died, the number predicted on Lucinda’s paper. Phil visits the house and encourages John to consider other possibilities. Phil says his scientific mind tells him to have nothing to do with the paper and encourages John to do the same.

One of the strangers from the car watches John’s house from outside. Caleb wakes up hearing whispers. The stranger watches him from across the room and points out his window. Caleb sees everything outside burning. Moose and birds flee an approaching forest fire. Caleb then wakes up from his nightmare and screams. John sees the stranger outside. He runs out with a baseball bat and a flashlight and orders him to stay away.

John then meets Lucinda’s daughter Diana and her daughter Abby at a museum. He tries to talk to Diana about Lucinda’s ability to see the future, but Diana becomes afraid and leaves. John stops her and says he witnessed a plane crash where and when Lucinda said it would happen. He says 170 people will die in New York City tomorrow (Oct 16) and another 33 three days later (on Oct. 19). Diana refuses to listen and leaves. That night a TV reporter speaks about a suspected upcoming terrorist attack on a major east coast city.

John determines the intersection in New York where the next disaster will occur. He calls New York and asks them to seal off the intersection, but they do not listen. He leaves Caleb with Grace and drives to New York City. He finds the street intersection matching the GPS coordinates and then finds a police officer and asks why the intersection has not been sealed off. She asks him to come with her. When he sees a van across the street he runs into the subway. He chases a suspicious looking man, and the police chase John. When the police asks the suspicious man to stop he drops his box, spilling DVDs, not a bomb. A subway train then runs off of its track, causing a major crash and many deaths.

John returns home with Caleb where Diana and Abby are waiting. Diana reminds him that he mentioned October 19 and says that her mother told her that would be the day she would die. As they drive away together, Diana says she has believed all her life that no one can predict her future. She says it does not matter anyway because we all die, and she does not want to know her future. John tells her how his wife died while sleeping during a hotel fire. He had heard that someone is supposed to sense when people he loves are in danger, but that day he felt nothing. He had concluded that no one can know what will happen and that life is “just a string of random accidents and mistakes.” Now he says if he had found the list before that date, then he would have saved her life.

They then arrive at Lucinda’s old home. Diana notices the 33 at the end of the number sequence. She says it looks more like EE written backwards. As they walk in, Diana says that house is where Lucinda died of an overdose. All of her possessions are still there. Diana says Lucinda would say she could hear voices whispering and telling her terrible things. Diana’s father took her away, and then Lucinda moved there “to get ready.”

The next scene alternates between the car with Caleb and Abby and the inside of the house with John and Diana. The walls in one room are covered by news articles documenting various tragedies and a picture which Lucinda would stare at for hours – the wheels in the sky in Ezekiel 1. In Lucinda’s bedroom they find a Bible. While they leave the room John finds a black stone like the one given to Caleb. Outside, Caleb and Abby are asleep in the car. They both wake up and hear whispers while the strange men approach. John then finds a small collection of black stones. One of the strange men walks to the car and says to Caleb, “Come with us.” John turns over Lucinda’s bed and finds “Everyone Else” (which John realizes is the meaning of EE) written repeatedly on the underside. As Abby begins leaving the car, Caleb honks the car horn. When John and Diana run out, the strange men are gone. Abby says the “whisper people” said she and Caleb could go with them if they wanted to.

John sees one of them walking away. He grabs his gun and chases the man. When he finds the man, John asks him what he wants with Caleb. The man shines a bright white light from his mouth which dazes John and then escapes. When they return home, John and Diana both say they think the men have been following them for days. John notes that the final date on Lucinda’s paper does not have coordinates. They discuss whether the paper predicts the end of everything. John tells Caleb he thinks Lucinda could hear the men whisper like Caleb hears them.

The next morning, John finds Abby coloring the Ezekiel picture. At the top of the original picture, God sits in the center of a circle with points around the perimeter. Abby has colored it orange and says, “It’s the sun.” John goes to his office. Drawing from a paper he wrote on solar flares in another star system, he concludes that the numbers on the paper are a warning to everyone. He tells Phil that the Sun will eject a super flare, destroying the ozone layer and killing all life on Earth.

John wonders why he received the prediction if he can do nothing about it. How can he stop the end of the world? Diana admits she knew all her life that Lucinda was right but pretended that she was insane. She suggests some caves where they can take shelter. They then go home and begin packing food and supplies. Caleb hears screeching and whispers. John opens the decorated box and pulls out a locket containing a photo of himself with his wife and Caleb. John calls his father and reminds him of the sermon his father would deliver on Pentecost regarding the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of prophecy. He warns his father to get deep underground, but his father is at peace with dying when his time comes. The cell phone then loses its signal. John goes upstairs to get Caleb and finds him writing a series of numbers like Lucinda did.

John realizes that Lucinda wrote the final numbers on a door. They drive to the school. John breaks in and takes the door. He then takes it to a shed where he scratches off the paint and then types the final numbers into his GPS. Diana is desperate to go to the cave and takes the children in her car. They are gone when John gets the numbers.

While riding in the car, Abby asks if they are hiding from the whisper people and says that the whisper people know where they are. She has not seen them again, but they speak to her and Caleb by whispering in their heads. This distresses Diana. She then stops at a gas station which receives an emergency broadcast warning people to stock up supplies and either stay indoors or seek underground shelter.

Caleb calls John’s cell phone. Diana takes the phone. John tells her the coordinates lead to her mother’s mobile home. He insists that they must go to her mother’s mobile home and that the caves will not protect them because the solar radiation will penetrate a mile into the Earth’s crust. Someone then steals her car, taking the children. Diana steals another car and chases them, but she runs a red light and is hit by a large truck. The children then realize that the car is being driven by one of the whisper people with another in the passenger seat.

John finds the gas station, which is being overrun by panicked people, but Diana and the children are gone. The attendant tells him someone took her car and that she chased them in another car. John speeds down the road to the crash site. Diana is in an ambulance where paramedics fail to revive her and declare her dead. He finds a black stone in her hand.

John arrives at the mobile home with his gun in his hand. His GPS is not working. He sees tire tracks and follows them through a field and into a clearing where the ground is covered with black stones. He drives further, with his gun in hand, and finds the car with the doors open. He searches while calling for Caleb and finds a whisper person. He approaches the man, pointing the gun at him, and demands his son. Caleb runs out to stop him. Three more whisper people approach them. John wants to leave, but Caleb says they need to go with the whisper people. Caleb and Abby (who are each holding a white rabbit) explain that the whisper people have been protecting them and “sent a message ahead of them to prepare the way” (1:45:13) and have now come for them.

More whisper people arrive, and then a spaceship descends through the clouds. Caleb tells John that the whisper people chose them so that they can start over. A spaceship made of rotating circles descends from the sky and hovers, and then a sphere exits the ship and lands on the ground. A whisper person stops them and communicates telepathically with Caleb. Caleb tells John that only the chosen may go. Caleb and Abby are chosen but not John. After a brief pause to think, John tells Caleb to be strong and to care for Abby. Caleb does not want to leave John, but John encourages him to leave. He insists that they will all be together along with Caleb’s mother. He gives Caleb the locket. Caleb joins the whisper people who transform into luminous aliens with translucent skin. He and Abby board the spaceship with the aliens and the rabbits. The spaceship then leaves earth as many other ships leave from locations all over the world.

John returns to the city, which is in chaos as people panic. He goes to his sister’s house. When she asks where Caleb is, John says Caleb is safe. He goes into the living room where he finds his parents. His father tells him it is not the end. The solar flares then destroy everything on Earth.

Caleb and Abby, now wearing white clothes, are standing in a large field on another world. They place the rabbits on the ground and watch the spaceship leave. They then run across the field toward a large white tree with widely spreading branches. In the distance, more spaceships can be seen leaving the planet.

Theological Themes

John’s father is a pastor, but John has lost faith. He is not convinced that heaven is real and says he cannot know where his dead wife is. His experience with seeing Lucinda’s prophecies come true, however, leads him to reconsider his beliefs. He calls his father, reminds him of the sermon on the gifts of the Spirit, and warns him to seek shelter. Later when faced with his upcoming death and the departure of Caleb, John assures Caleb that they will all be together, mother included. He does not express a new opinion on his father’s faith (except for the sermon on prophecy), but he does believe that there is more than the material life that we see every day.

John also changes his view on determinism vs. randomness. When discussing the question with his class, he says, “I think $%# just happens, but that’s me.” Witnessing the fulfillment of Lucinda’s prophecy seems to change his mind. He does not express a hard determinism view, but the does believe that the predictions are genuine, which would preclude randomness and “$%# just happens.”

Much of the theological material in Knowing revolves around the apocalypse. It does not portray a biblical view, but it does make some loose biblical references. It makes heavy use of numbers in Lucinda’s predictions. Numbers appear in the book of Revelation and other biblical prophecies. The movie also makes a few references to Ezekiel 1 in which the prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of wheels in the sky. Diana says that Lucinda would stare for hours at a drawing depicting that vision. Later Abby colors the picture and says that the circle at the top (not one of the wheels) is the sun. Near the end of the movie, a space ship descends to retrieve Caleb and Abby. It looks like a collection of rotating wheels.

After the ships leave, everything on Earth is destroyed. Like the book of Revelation, however, this is followed with a time of renewal. In the last scene, Caleb and Abby run across a field toward a large tree, presumably on another planet. This tree could be a reference to the Tree of Life in Revelation 21 which describes the new heaven, new earth, and the new Jerusalem. Revelation 22:1-3 describes the river of life with the Tree of Life on both sides of the river. There is, however, no river or city in the field on the new planet, and so it could instead be a new Eden. Which interpretation is intended is unclear, but considering the number of biblical references in this movie, the tree on this planet is most likely intended to refer to the tree in either Eden or the New Earth.

Also note that Revelation was written by the apostle John who informs people of God’s coming judgment. In Knowing, John Koestler receives the revelation in the numbers and warns people of the coming disasters. It is reasonable to conclude that John Koestler’s name is likely intended to be a reference to the apostle John.

About henrywm

I am a graduate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. I am interested in Christian theology and church history. I also enjoy science fiction and stories which wrestle with deep questions.
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