The movie opens at an elementary school in Lexington, Massachusetts, 1959. At the playground, we see little Lucinda staring into the distance as if she is witnessing some catastrophic event. The teacher, Miss Taylor, repeatedly instructs Lucinda to come back into the class when the recess period ends. During the class session Miss Taylor tells the students that as part of a celebration, the students will be writing/drawing predictions for the future and placing them in a time capsule. She tells them this is Lucinda’s idea (important later). As they start writing, we see Lucinda in a trance, furiously scribbling seemingly random numbers onto a sheet. It appears that mysterious voices are controlling Lucinda’s thoughts and actions. After asking the students to stop writing, Miss Taylor practically rips the sheet from Lucinda due to her trance like state.
During the ceremony, we see a crowd gathered as the time capsule is lowered into the school grounds. In the distance we can see Lucinda alone and staring at the proceedings. A few minutes later Miss Taylor notices Lucinda gone from her spot. This sparks a search party, as Lucinda seemed to vanish. Eventually Miss Taylor finds Lucinda in a school closet storage space, her fingers bloodied as she scratched even more numbers onto the wooden door. She is still crying and acting as if in a trance.
The movie then flash forwards to the present day 50 years later. We are introduced to M.I.T. professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) and his son Caleb at their house. John is cooking hot dogs for his son (who is holding a white pet rabbit). They talk about the possibility of intelligent life in outer space, and after dinner Caleb is in his bedroom watching his favorite show about tigers. After Caleb is asleep we see John drinking from a bottle of whiskey, and here we realize he is still coping with the devastating loss of his wife.
The next day we see John giving a lecture to his class about determinism. Determinism is believing that everything that happens in the world is caused by something that happened before it, a deliberate cause and effect. The flip side is everything that happens in this world, even evolution, was all random, accidental, and without any order. When asked by a student what he believes in, John replies, s**t happens. After the lecture, he is talking to his colleague Phil when he realizes he is missing his son’s school celebration where they are opening the same time capsule shown at the beginning of the movie.
When he gets to the celebration he sees honored guest Miss Taylor giving a speech, and then the capsule is opened. Miss Taylor starts handing out the various letters and drawings to the current students. As if by chance, Miss Taylor hands Lucinda’s page of numbers to Caleb (all the other students get drawings of what the future would be like). As Caleb opens the letter and looks at it, he notices a strange looking man in the distance dressed in a trench coat, and starts to hear ‘voices’ in his head. This shows that there is some sort of ‘tie’ between young Caleb and Lucinda as both can hear ‘voices.’ Caleb takes the letter home.
During dinner that evening, John notices the unusual letter with numbers sticking out of Caleb’s backpack. After realizing it was from the time capsule, he admonishes him for taking it and sends him to sleep. A few moments later, when John goes to Caleb’s room for his customary tuck in, he notices Caleb watching old home videos of his mother, and instead of tucking him in, John closes the door and starts drinking heavily. As he pours himself drink after drink, he accidentally overfills his cup and spills alcohol everywhere. He goes to the kitchen to find something to wipe up the mess with when he notices that he placed his cup over Lucinda’s letter. This time, he takes an even closer look at the page of numbers and has an idea. He walks over to his chalkboard, picks out a small group of numbers, and writes them on the board. After a few tries of grouping them in different combinations with no meaning, he suddenly finds the date of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack within the numbers, along with the total number of victims. Startled, he writes the entire page of numbers onto the board, and with the help of the Internet, he finds the number groupings seem to predict the dates of every major catastrophic event of the past 50 years along with the body count. There are a few group of numbers left that are not circled and accounted for, meaning that these numbers may predict future events.
He tells his colleague Phil about the numbers and is met with ridicule, and John storms out of the office. Determined, John tracks down Miss Taylor at her home. He finds out about Lucinda, and how she disappeared, and how they found her in the closet when she scratched numbers onto the door (again, important later). Unfortunately, Miss Taylor tells him that Lucinda died a while ago.
At his house John is suddenly startled by his sister Grace, who is worried about how he is still coping with his wife’s death and how he doesn’t talk to their father. After a few tense moments, John asks her to leave.
Later that afternoon we see Caleb playing soccer by himself in the front lawn. John is on the phone trying to hunt down more leads, when a black car filled with several of the mysterious looking strangers approaches Caleb. One of them reaches out of the window and hands him a smooth black stone. John sees this and rushes outside but the men leave. That evening and throughout the night, John stays awake searching the latest television news updates for any possible catastrophic event that could be a part of the remaining groups of numbers.
The next day John oversleeps and forgets to pick up his son from school. He calls Caleb and tells him he is on his way. On his way to pick up his son, John finds himself stuck on a highway due to an accident. He phones Phil to apologize for their meeting earlier. He then uses his truck’s GPS system to try and find an alternate route, but it shows that there are none. All of a sudden he notices the present latitude/longitude coordinates on the GPS system, and looks at Lucinda’s letter and notices the same group of numbers (previously he had only circled the dates of disasters but was unable to find meaning in the other encircled groups of numbers; now he realizes these numbers are the coordinate locations of the disasters)! He gets out of his truck and approaches the accident site. As he is talking to the police, an airplane comes out of nowhere and crashes directly into the path of his truck before continuing on to the fields next to the highway, where it further destructs. We next see a powerful and disturbing sequence of the aftermath of the crash. John does what he can to help the survivors, many of who are burning and in terrible pain, as explosions are still going off, before rescue workers hold him back.
When he gets home his sister is waiting for him with Caleb. He asks her not to tell Caleb what happened. Caleb repeatedly asks him what happened but John will not answer and Caleb storms off crying. Later that night Caleb is awakened in his room by one of the strangers, who points to the window. As Caleb goes to the window he is greeted by a horrifying sight, a terrible forest fire and hundreds of animals being burned alive. As he screams, John rushes up to his room to comfort him, and then he notices the stranger again outside the house standing by the trees. He attempts to confront him but is gone by the time he gets outside.
The next day John and Caleb track down Diana and her daughter Abby. Diana is the daughter of little Lucinda we meet in the beginning. They are at a museum when John uses Caleb as a ploy to start a discussion with Diana. He invites them for drinks and they walk to the restaurant. There John reveals the truth, that in fact it wasn’t a random meeting, but that he tracked her down due to her mother and the page of numbers. He tells her the truth about the numbers, and wants her help. Angered by this deception, Diana storms off with Abby even as John pleads that he wants to save his son.
Later on, John is at home when his attention is grabbed by a television news alert of a possible terrorist attack in New York. When he inputs the location into a map online, the coordinates match with one of the number groupings in the letter. With a sense of urgency he anonymously calls from a pay phone and tells them to block off the area.
The next day he has his sister babysit Caleb, and drives himself to New York on a personal mission to try and do what he can about the potential terrorist threat. When he gets to the location, he notices it is not blocked off by the police. He angrily confronts a police officer, and then runs off to a nearby subway station. Believing this is the area where an attack may occur, he starts scanning the area for any suspicious activity. As he walks down the platform he notices a suspicious looking man holding a large object underneath his jacket. As their eyes meet, the man suddenly sprints off, and John goes after him believing him to be the threat, and a nearby police officer notices them. They both get on the train right before it takes off, followed by the police.
As they both near the front of the train, John starts warning people, particularly a young pregnant woman, to clear the train at the next stop. The police then catch up to them and try to arrest John. After John pleads his case that the man he was chasing is the threat, the police then switch their attention to the man.
Suddenly, the man drops what he was hiding, a bunch of DVD’s he has stolen. We next see the tracks being improperly switched, and this causes the train to veer onto the wrong tracks and straight into the path of a parked train at full speed. The train goes off the tracks and creates a path of death and destruction as it careens out of control through the crowded platform. After the crash we see John solemnly walking out of the station along with other survivors, covered in dust. Even though he was not able to prevent the disaster from happening, this event to John is the final proof that the numbers are meant to predict past and future disasters. It also seems to indicate that for some reason he is the ‘chosen’ one that discovered this.
When John gets back home, he notices Diana and Abby sitting outside his house. She is now sympathetic to him, and they all drive to Lucinda’s old trailer out in the middle of the woods to find more clues. As they drive she shares with him that her mother told her that she would die on October 22 (in a few days). That is also the date that is in the final groupings of numbers (which are ended by what appears to be the backwards double letter ‘E’). She also talks about finding her dead body in the bedroom. He shares with her how his wife died. She died from a hotel room fire, and when she died he was out in the front of the house doing yard work. He tells her that he always believed that people deeply in love have a psychic connection even when apart, but when she died he felt nothing, and that is why he believes in the randomness of things.
When they get to the trailer, they leave the kids in the truck and walk inside. In the main room John notices numerous newspaper clippings of disasters around the world pasted on the wall. At the far end of the room he notices a drawing of ‘Judgment Day’ with a picture of a large bright object in the middle. Walking into Lucinda’s bedroom, he notices a bible on the desk. As they are walking out of the room, he stumbled on something, and notices it’s a smooth black rock similar to the one Caleb received earlier. He looks under the bed and notices more rocks, then looks at the underside of the bed. Noticing some writing, he turns the bed over to expose the backside of the bed. It is covered everywhere with the writing, ‘Everyone Else’ (the ‘EE’ from the last part of the letter). John then realizes that the final prediction will affect everyone on the planet.
At this point the mysterious strangers appear again and approach the truck, and we can hear the mysterious voices start to appear. Hearing a scream, John and Diana run to the truck. Abby mentions that the men were “talking” to her and we realize that Abby, too, has the “gift” to hear voices. John grabs his gun and runs into the forest to confront one of the men. As he enters a clearing, he sees the man standing still facing away from him. He points his gun at him and orders him to turn around. The stranger does, and then opens his mouth as a bright shining light emanates from inside his body. This light blinds John and the stranger gets away.
Back at home; Abby gives John the ‘Judgment Day’ picture that was in the trailer. John notices that she had colored in the shining object in the middle of the drawing and made it look like the sun. This is when it suddenly dawns on John that the final event is related to the sun. They all drive to John’s lab office, where he meets Phil. John mentions to him about a hypothetical catastrophic solar flare model they worked on before. John says that in fact this model is of the earth, and that this flare will destroy life as we know it. He tells Phil to go home and spend time with his wife.
As he walks out he tells Diana about the coming disaster, and she breaks down and says she wants to protect her daughter. They both agree that they will try to hide out this event by going to some remote caves not known to the public. Going back to John’s place, they all scramble to gather clothes and supplies to take with them. John takes a moment to call his father on his cell phone. He tells him about the coming disaster, and asks him to take his mother and both find an underground shelter. His father refuses, saying that he is ready to die at any moment. The cell phone then goes dead, obviously being affected by the solar flares.
As they are packing, John’s thoughts go back to the last part of Lucinda’s letter, and he realizes that unlike the previous predictions, there were no coordinates. He then remembers Miss Taylor’s discussion about Lucinda scratching numbers onto the closet door.
They all rush to the school, much to Diana’s rising panic, as John breaks into the school and makes his way to the closet. He finds the closet but notices the door has been painted over. He takes off the door from its hinges and brings it back to his garage. Using a heating gun and scraper John frantically tries to find the numbers, as Diana’s panic rises to a fevered pitch. Thinking the solar flare could happen at any moment, Diana takes Abby and Caleb in her own car and drive off to the caves, leaving John. As soon as he finds the last set of numbers, he writes them down and runs out to his truck but realizes they are all gone.
Entering the numbers into the GPS he is shocked to find that the coordinates point to Lucinda’s trailer they previously visited. He takes off in his truck to find them. John is able to reach Diana on her cell phone, and he desperately tries to convince her to take both kids to Lucinda’s trailer instead of the caves. He then drops the bombshell on her that this flare will penetrate miles underground and will kill everyone, and that the only choice now is to go to the trailer. The conversation ends, and Diana stops at a gas station. As she goes to the pay window, she notices the television inside showing an emergency broadcast alert. The alert warns of the impending flare, and asks everyone to find underground shelter. As she is watching the alert, Caleb gets out of the car and calls his dad from a payphone. He is only able to tell his dad that they are at a gas station.
As Caleb is talking, he is taken by the mysterious stranger, who gets in Diana’s car and drives off with the two kids. Seeing this, Diana runs after them in a near hysterical state, and jumps into an idle SUV at one of the pumps to give chase. During the chase she sees several cars ahead of her stopped at an intersection. She swerves into the opposite lane, and as she crosses the intersection she is violently t-boned by a huge truck, causing the SUV to flip over and we see her unconscious.
Next, John drives into the gas station and locates the pay phone Caleb used. He sees the same smooth black stone on top of the phone. He asks the store clerk if he saw a lady with two kids and the clerk tells him the kids were abducted and she gave chase. We can see that a large group of people at the gas station are already panicking and creating a small riot by hoarding all the food items inside.
John takes off in the direction of the chase, and he comes across the intersection where Diana was hit. He walks to the rear of the ambulance where paramedics desperately try to revive her with no success. As they call her time of death, John notices it is just past midnight, signifying that it is now October 22, the date of the final disaster and Diana’s date of death predicted by her mother. After holding her hand and saying a few final parting words, John goes off to Lucinda’s trailer.
When he reaches the trailer he notices tire tracks going off into the woods, and follows these tracks. When he gets to a clearing he notices the ground is covered in the exact same black smooth stones seen several times in the movie. Agonizing over his missing son, Caleb suddenly appears safe and calm, holding a white rabbit. He also finds Abby safe, and she tells John that ‘they’ (being the mysterious strangers) told her that her mother is now in a safe place. We now realize that the reason why the stranger abducted Caleb and Anthony was because Diana was not going to take them to Lucinda's trailer.
Caleb tells his dad that ‘they’ are taking them away, meaning to a safer place away from the impending catastrophe. We then see four of the mysterious strangers standing in front of them.
We then see a pattern of lights high in the sky, and then out of the clouds an enormous spacecraft emerges. The bottom opens up and a huge orb like transporter is beamed to the ground. It is now apparent that these mysterious strangers are beings from another universe, and that they have come to save this family. As they get ready to move towards the orc, John sadly realizes that the aliens came to specifically save Caleb and Abbey, and not the adults. At first Caleb protests, but John convinces him that he will always be with him, and that he must go with Abby to be saved. After an emotional goodbye, Caleb and Abby walk towards the orc. As they do so, the strangers shed their human skins and reveal their true alien selves, bodies that give off bright lights. The orc goes back towards the mother ship and takes off into space. As the ship leaves the earth, we notice hundreds of other ships also leaving, showing that many young kids from around the world were also being saved (John and Caleb’s story was only one of countless others).
John collapses and is awoken the next day by a light rain and eerie orange glow in the sky (the flares are starting). We see him driving through the city being destroyed by the approaching flare: buildings on fire, rising temperatures, and people in panic throughout the streets. As he drives on he sees his old partner Phil holding his wife on the street. He then stops in front of an apartment, where he sees his sister and parents inside. He tells his sister Caleb is in a safe place now. All four then have a group hug and hold onto each other as the flare incinerates and vaporizes everything in the city. The last shot of earth is as it is breaking off into the atmosphere.
We then see what appears to be the landscape of a far away planet, full of odd colors yet sustaining plant life. The spaceship we saw earlier appears, and drops off young Caleb and Abby onto the surface with their pet rabbits before leaving. As they smile, we see more spaceships arrive to drop kids, and the final shot is of a huge and magnificent glowing tree in the background.
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