Friday, April 9, 2010

High Concept Messes with Religious Angles/Angels

2009 saw a couple of movies that turned to the theme that we see more and more these days… aliens and religion. More and more, this theme is emerging because certain branches of science are beginning to look to extra dimensional (read supernatural) explanations for things. On the one hand it is interesting to see postmodernism begin to open scientific minds. On the other hand it can make for some less-than-satisfying story-telling. Some people hated the way the Indiana Jones series embraced this idea. The 2009 movies also saw a lot of hatred from audiences.

(Both of these movies will be spoiled here. The idea is that most people have either seen these or decided not to. If you still want to see them skip the rest of this post unless you don’t mind knowing what will happen in advance.)

Knowing directed by Alex Proyas

Nicolas Cage stars as a professor struggling with the question: “Do things happen by chance, or design?” He gets his hands on a sheet of paper written 50 years prior predicting every major disaster’s date, number of victims, and location… by the way, the sheet’s predictions end in a couple of days.

With the answer in hand that everything is planned out, Cage sets out to try to prevent fate. That is what we call “failing to accept reality.” Along the way, some strange men begin to show up everywhere, watching Cage’s kid. It turns out that they are spiritual beings from some other dimension. As the movie goes on, those familiar with Ezekiel will realize that they are not just any extra-dimensional aliens, but actually some of the angels described in the Bible.

Knowing is an interesting idea, but ultimately not an entertaining story.

The Box directed by Richard Kelly

In this story (that term is used very loosely) Cameron Diaz and James Marsden receive a box with a button on it that, if pushed, will kill someone they don’t know and earn them a million 1976 dollars. This is an interesting concept. Will they push it, or not. Keeping in mind the idea that we need something to happen for it to be a movie, they do. Turns out, in this vision of humanity everyone will always push the button because people are selfish and anything but altruistic.

The only problem here is that Kelly doesn’t seem to know what to do with the characters or the plot after the button is pushed. There is some convoluted plot about spiritual aliens testing humanity to see is it should be destroyed. In the end, Kelly introduces us to another Sophie’s choice. They must either live with their son blind and deaf, or Marsden can kill Diaz. As it turns out, it is not really their choice at all because they are being controlled by another couple pushing the button.

The Box is like a really drawn out episode of the Twilight Zone gone horribly wrong.


  1. i've noticed the same thing, and have been pondering for some time how sci-fi has become the preferred genre to explore questions of whether there is an Other and what that Other may be like. ancient questions in a future-edge genre--interesting.

    personally, i found KNOWING a good piece of storytelling in spite of its weaknesses--and i'm one of those who think there's enough in the film to point towards an Other beyond aliens who is benevelent. however, i've had long conversations about this film with those who see it more nilisticly, heh. As for THE BOX (which i haven't seen), i'm thinking i'll take that one off my netflix list :)

  2. Thanks, Carmen. I need to catch up with your last few posts myself, but I am really behind on Lost. I need to start watching again before the whole Zeitgeist is gone!

  3. Dan Zukovic's "THE LAST BIG THING", called the "best unknown American film of the 1990's" in the film book "Defining Moments in Movies" (Editor: Chris Fujiwara), was finally released on DVD by Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently debuting on Cable Video On Demand. Featuring an important early role by 2011 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nominee Mark Ruffalo ("Shutter Island", "Zodiac", "The Kids Are Alright"), "THE LAST BIG THING" had a US theatrical release in 1998, and gained a cult following over several years of screenings on the Showtime Networks.

    "A distinctly brilliant and original work." Kevin Thomas - Los Angeles Times
    "A satire whose best moments echo the tone of a Nathanial West novel...Nasty Fun!"
    Stephen Holden - New York Times
    "One of the cleverest recent satires on contemporary Los Angeles...a very funny sleeper!" Michael Wilmington - Chicago Tribune
    "One of the few truly original low budget comedies of recent years." John Hartl - Seattle Times
    "'The Last Big Thing' is freakin' hilarious! The most important and overlooked
    indie film of the 1990's. " Chris Gore - Film Threat


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