The Lawnmower Man ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

For a story about a mentally handicapped man growing exponentially intelligent, the movie itself becomes increasingly stupid as it fumbles along incompetently. At bottom, the film treats virtual reality—which is really just code here for "newfangled CGI"—and, by metonymic connection, advanced intelligence itself, as a danger to humanity (and all this built upon the backs of animal testing, mind you: Others all the way down once more). Under threat are core values presumed by traditional Enlightenment values like empathy—the kindest character in the film, the titular Jobe, turned into the cruelest—and notions of autonomy—Jobe made dependent on technology, unable to care for himself. It would be easy to deconstruct this ambivalence toward digitality, technology presented as both a means of escape from the torturous confines of the brute body—Jobe, forced into manual labor, flogged by cruel authority, finally uploads his consciousness into the computer itself to become his own master—while simultaneously a mode of our own enslavement—made the center of his virtual universe, Jobe seems awfully like the genie returned to his cramped lamp, another magic object of enlightenment and bondage all at once.

More interesting, however, than these standard sci-fi tropes and computer anxieties—surprising in only how terribly they have been translated to the screen—is the utterly bonkers religious subtext of the film. In a pivotal scene, Brosnan (the mad scientist) says to Fahey (his Frankenstein-esque creation) that Christ-like delusions are a sure sign of madness—no doubt an insanity that runs throughout this strange pseudo-creature feature—to which Fahey responds aspirantly: "Cyberchrist" (and, of course, the film's original and better title was "Cybergod"). Except, having been brought up by an abusive and manipulative Catholic priest, when the slow Jobe transcends his earthly form to approach digital divinity, he seems more an antichrist than a cyberchrist, more in like with the dispassionate ruthlessness of the Old Testament than the simple kindness of the New. Nonetheless, what is so fascinating (if poorly portrayed) about the metaphor is the suggestion that in the absence of God, missing from the Church and unmentioned by science, technology and virtuality will fill the vacuum, offering up a new iGod, a Moloch of the machine. In a sense, the movie asks: If the biblical Job had had a computer or if he had been on Twitter, would he have suffered so silently, would he have become so pious, or would he have posted incessantly, joined some incel forum, and fooled himself with digital delusions of grandeur?