The following article contains spoilers.
At the end of director Alex Proyas’s 2009 sci-fi epic Knowing, Armageddon strikes, as numeric codes (corresponding to the dates and death tolls of natural disasters) and tragedies have foretold. To the stately second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #7, waves of fire sweep over the Boston area, and the entire world. Heat waves emanate off of the world; a UFO deposits MIT professor Nicholas Cage’s character’s child and his friend on a new wheat-covered planet, a white “Tree of Life” towering above. Presumably, they are new-Adam-and-Eve-ing it, poised to begin a new world on the recommendation of their alien saviors.
It’s a pretty intense (and daring) ending for a blockbuster. But Knowing, given its far-fetched plot and Nicolas Cage’s elaborately bizarre characterization, was almost universally reviled by critics. One of the major signposts in a gradual turn against Alex Proyas by critics and audiences alike. With the Gerard Butler-starring Gods of Egypt tanking both with critics and at the box office, Proyas has reached his Lady in the Water moment: It’s a juncture at which he’s risking no one ever taking him seriously any longer. It’s become increasingly hard for him to stake his reputation on his celebrated ‘90s noir dystopian cult films The Crow and Dark City anymore.
The director has not taken the backlash well. We’ve already traced some of the response: “[Critics] can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming ‘white-wash!!!’ like the deranged idiots they all are.”
As if the the labyrinthine, unraveling plot weren’t enough, the very white cast for of a movie set in Egypt were the nails in Gods of Egypt’s coffin.
Call Proyas what you want, but as a storyteller and director, he’s no fool. The set design, creature/alien creation, and elaborate conceptual framework for his films has consistently inspired throughout his career. He always delivers quirky, eminently watchable products, in the vein of classic cable-rerun cult films. Without directors like Proyas, the landscape of recent Hollywood sci-fi and action would be far less idiosyncratic and enjoyable.
Gods of Egypt may be a problematic mess, but Proyas’s always-too-ambitious voice is still present. Rewatch Knowing, and you’ll find a spark there as well. If you need everything in your plot to make hard and fast sense, Proyas’ films — with their excess of big ideas and odd syntax — will not be for you. Crucify him for not casting POC actors in Gods of Egypt — certainly, a gross error in judgment and good taste. But don’t take him to task for thinking just a little too big, as he always does; therein lies the charm of his movies.
Hopefully, Proyas can still get work, and not fall into obscurity like other daft dreamer types: Richard Kelly, of Donnie Darko and Southland Tales notoriety. Perhaps he’ll be able to remake himself in a new, more self-consciously odd image, like M. Night Shylmalan did with his found-footage romp The Visit. Either way, keep your chin up, Alex, learn from your mistakes here, but don’t feel too defeated. We wish you the best that we can.