Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, I, Robot) makes movies about the quests for truth and meaning. Knowing is no exception. Elementary school students open a time capsule former classmates had buried 50 years earlier. Contained within the capsule is a list of numbers predicting catastrophic events over those last 50 years, except for three. John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), an MIT professor, lost his wife in one such event years back. Koestler, along with his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), face the challenge of trying to change the future and save millions from global disaster, which might have been their destiny all along.
During a NYC press junket for Knowing, I spoke to Alex Proyas and MIT professor Dr. Eddie R. Farhi about these concepts of destiny, global annihilation, and the imminent threat of zombies.
HB: What brought you to this subject matter?
AP: I read an early spec script for this project and the idea intrigued me. I found myself not quite knowing what happens next, and that has always been a real plus for me. I get sick of the same stories and formula being applied; when you get something that has a unique journey to take the audience on, that’s quite exciting for me to come across. Also it is the beginning of exploring ideas. I am fascinated by the whole quest that Nic Cage’s character goes on, a sort of a search for meaning, that’s something that I’m quite fascinated by. Characters who are trying to find the truth in many ways, whether it is a small thing or a metaphysical search for truth, so all of those aspects really struck a chord with me.
HB: Can you give me examples in past films where this journey was focused on?
AP: I think my films always seem to have a central character who is on a quest for truth. In some ways it is something that I keep coming back to. I’ve become more conscious of it in recent years, and I think that every one of them has an aspect of that to them. I think that I am personally interested in that, interested in finding meaning, finding purpose; it’s almost a spiritual quest in a way. I’m sort of agnostic really. I see both sides of the argument, but I guess I am looking for some kind of answers, a lot of people are. I guess I use my films as a way of exploring those ideas.
HB: Have you found the answers that you were looking for?
AP: Ah, very few. You know, it is a very complex universe, and I usually find more questions. The older you get, the less you know. I think that for me it’s trying to explore those ideas. I think the film tries to do that, it tries to leave it open ended. Hopefully it will start a discussion going, and some thought processes going, thinking about some of these ideas, that people haven’t thought about already.
HB: I want to ask you about one of my favorite films that you’ve done, Dark City. Are you looking to work in that world again? Also what was it like to work with David J. Schow?
AP: Well, David is a very good buddy. We hang out together a lot. And he’s a lovely, lovely guy, and we had a great time working together on The Crow. I keep looking for projects to work with him again one day. Dark City for me was kind of a tricky situation. I started off making it a certain way, and it tested very badly. The studio came in and demanded that certain changes be made. I’ve recently gone back and done a director’s cut of it and was able to re-instate my version of the film, which I think is a hell of a lot better. I put a lot of little subtleties back into the film.
HB: Did the end sequence change at all?
AP: A little bit, yes. Certain things changed. We finessed a few of the effects because we had a very low budget for Dark City. At the time it was a real struggle to get it made for the money that we spent on it, and so I was able to go back in and fix a few dangles.
HB: Is your cut available?
AP: Yes. It is on Blu-ray at the moment.
HB: What would be the worst thing that could happen to humanity? Are you scared of meteors? Plague? For you, what is it?
EP: Well, unfortunately, the things I think are really scary are man-made as opposed to natural things. I’m not too worried about us being annihilated by an asteroid, or a plague, or the earth leaving its orbit, or being consumed by a black hole. I think it’s more likely that man- and women-kind, through its stupidity, will mess up life on earth, and I think we’ve done a good job of in certain ways.
HB: Yes, well, I think stupidity is part of our species.
HB: And our major Achilles heel. Do you think global warming will be our undoing?
EP: Global warming makes me anxious. I would like to see us do more about global warming. I would like to see us labor harder to get rid of petroleum products; I would like to see us build nuclear power plants because they don’t contribute to global warming. I think the country should go nuclear.
HB: Excellent. Dr. Manhattan would be very excited to hear you say that.
EP: Yeah, I think we should. I think we should build nuclear power plants and stop emitting carbon, and I think we should grow up.
HB: How is MIT helping us grow up?
EP: Well, MIT does make an effort to be realistic about energy issues. There is a big effort at MIT to get the information out there, to try to be accurate about the science about energy and the problems associated with different energy sources. I think we need to make tough, rational decisions, and I feel guardedly optimistic about Obama, I do. Of him doing a good job on it.
HB: What attracted you to work on Knowing?
EP: I have a friend who works in Hollywood, and he told me about the movie and thought it would be kind of fun for me to see it and speak about it in relation to real science.
HB: How closely does it match?
EP: I think in the beginning, when the MIT professor is talking in his class, he says things that are not really that controversial, that I could agree with. He takes things ambiguously, but it is fair what he says. It does start to deviate a little bit when people take actual lists of numbers and associate them with specific events involving people. I think it is taking a bit of a poetic license.
HB: So people are creating correlations instead of actual real hard science.
EP: Yeah, it’s a science fiction movie, it’s not a science fact movie, but it’s not trying to be misleading.
HB: How would MIT 1deal with the zombie plague if it were to occur?
EP: Probably join them.
Video Production: Jason Cicalese
Transcription: Daniel Kleiner