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I wish I could say that I had my religious epiphany due to some life-changing event, or because I read a book that made me really question what faith meant to me. Neither of these things happened. Instead, it was watching Nicolas Cage play a disheartened astrophysicist with a questionable lace-front wig and who had been dealt a tough hand by life.
The film Knowing is no Oscar winner, and perhaps I took more from it than was intended, but when I left the theater after seeing it in 2009, I had a lot to think about and a love for the film that is still with me today.
I grew up being dragged to church. This might be a little dramatic, but the point stands: I wasn’t a huge fan. Although I had moments during which I genuinely wanted to go, most of the time I just wanted to stay home and spend my Sunday playing video games or watching cartoons. Going to church from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (often even longer) was not appealing. Church made my Sundays feel like school days instead of the actual weekend. After a while, I grew to dread Sunday. It didn’t help that I always felt as though I believed in God and Jesus because it was what was expected of me, rather than having a genuine faith in divine beings who just so happen to be the go-to guys of a religion that was also used for justification for the enslavement of my ancestors. Yes, at the tender age of 10 I was painfully aware of that fact, thanks to the teacher who taught an after-school dance class I was in.
So, for as long as I could remember, I was always dealing with this guilt for not wholeheartedly believing in Christianity in the same way as my parents, family members, and some of my friends.
For a while I thought it was me, that I was not trying hard enough. I spent many nights in bed wondering if I was going to hell or not, asking myself, "Should I have to put in momentous effort to convince myself to have faith in something just because everyone else does?" Eventually, I developed extreme anxiety whenever I thought about death, and for a time I forced myself to believe out of fear and nothing else. Again, what kind of God would want you to have faith in them only because you feared the possible consequences of not believing?
Fast-forward to 2009: I reached a point where I knew I did believe in a higher power, but I was still trying to process what that faith actually meant to me.
I’m a sucker for Nicolas Cage. I’m not quite sure why, but I generally really enjoy whatever movie he's in, no matter how bad it is. So when Knowing hit theaters, I went to see it opening weekend. Nicolas Cage in a science fiction thriller? Sign me up. If you aren’t familiar with this film, it's almost your standard "scientist figures out the world is going to end and then tries to figure out how to stop it" offering. However, in Knowing, the scientist can’t stop the world from ending because it’s just going to happen and there isn’t a damn thing he can do. Pretty bleak, right? It is for a good amount of the film, until it’s finally revealed that life will still go on, just not on Earth.
What made Knowing have this unexpected profound effect on me is because of how John (Cage) goes through this emotional, surreal journey while trying to piece things together. He is a man who has lost his faith, in the belief that life has any purpose or any meaning outside of "sh*t happens." He loses his wife in a tragic hotel fire and can’t seem to come to terms with why it happened, why anything happens. We follow John as he tries to make sense of a sheet of paper with seemingly random numbers on it, which he eventually figures out aren’t so random: They are dates that correspond to tragic events, including the hotel fire that claimed his wife’s life.
John goes into prevention mode and tries to stop the tragedies that haven’t happened yet. He soon learns that it's fruitless because he has no power. Some terrible things are just simply going to happen, and there is nothing he or anyone can do about it, including the end of the world — a massive solar flare that sets the earth on fire. There are also strange beings who show up to do things strange beings do in science fiction thrillers, like be ominous, weird, and show John’s child a glimpse of the very near future of a burning world. They end up being extraterrestrial Noahs, taking John’s son and other selected individuals, including wildlife, to another planet to start over again. When I watch Knowing now I giggle at these things, but for whatever reason when I saw it in theaters it just kind of spoke to me in a way that I needed.
John finally coming to a peace that he hadn’t known since before his wife tragically passed stood out to me. He comes to terms with life being random by design, but that there is meaning in its randomness, even if we don’t understand its purpose or agree with it. That in the midst of our own personal tragedies, life still goes on and will continue to go on with or without us. In this, John finds peace. There is nothing he can do about the world ending but accept it, and know that, in all of the randomness of life, the constant is that we’re here until we aren’t. Faith or belief is an individual journey and nothing anyone can or should force upon you. You’ll arrive at your peace whenever you’re ready. In John’s case, that happens to be when the Earth comes to an end.
Knowing made this click for me, which in turn allowed me to be a lot more patient with myself. My journey in finding faith, or maybe never finding it at all, was my journey at the end of the day. If we’re all here dealing with life and the bullsh*t that sometimes comes with it, then we at least have some kind of control over how we go about dealing with it. If that’s believing in divine entities, nothing at all, or coming somewhere in the middle, hopefully we all arrive at the destination of something that brings us some peace in a chaotic universe.