Twice Baked Potatoes: The Lawnmower Man (1992)

1992.  The home computer is becoming commonplace.  The innovators all envision a better world through technology.  They predict that a computer will be in every home by the year 2001.  We would warm ourselves around the fire of progress, living in the harmony that was supposed to be facilitated by the merging of human beings and technology.  The arena in which all this was supposed to happen was called Virtual Reality.  It was supposed to remove the buffer between our brains and the electronic “brains” in our computers.  Instead of keyboards spelling out commands, we would grab programs with our own hands, and manipulate raw data like clay.  Our minds could be stronger than any physical muscle, which meant we would only be limited by the size of our imaginations.  Virtual Reality was supposed to be our future, but with new ideas came new paranoias, and that is where history leaves off, and Brett Leonard’s film The Lawnmower Man picks up.

lawnmower man poster

Brilliant yet ambitious Dr. Angelo (played by Pierce Brosnan, in a post-Remington Steele, pre-James Bond role) recruits mentally challenged gardener Jobe (played by Body Parts‘ Jeff Fahey) for brain research that, if successful, could make Jobe smarter.  Of course, the research is a success and Jobe’s intelligence grows exponentially.  He gives himself a cowboy makeover, becomes a ladies man, and has big plans for his new future.  Unfortunately, as with all cautionary tales, the bliss is short lived.  Jobe experiences massive side effects, and then the story really begins…

brosnan fahey

The honest truth is that this film is a B-Movie at best.  Any decent film student could have shot this film.  The lighting, costumes, editing, and most of the acting could all be considered just a few notches higher than an episode of Red Shoe Diaries.  The two exceptions are the two lead actors:  Pierce Brosnan embraces the Frankenstein themes of the script, and conceives Dr. Angelo as a wide-eyed explorer of sorts who is constantly running from failure and needs a success before his work consumes him.  As Jobe, journeyman actor Jeff Fahey delivers a complicated character.  He constantly walks the line between dynamic and comical as his character slowly changes from simple-minded gardener into psychotic genius.  Even as the film gets more and more unbelievable, Fahey never lets Jobe slip into a single dimension.  There are always two minds at work.  Fahey’s performance is a textbook example of “better than the material.”  The allure of this film is in the concept, which is best realized during the Virtual Reality sequences.  Though they look extremely dated now, it is still easy to get lost in the visuals.  Even though the technology never actually came to pass, it is still fun to imagine what it would be like to travel to theoretical worlds and be free to express yourself in any way you see fit.  This film is about the dark side of our potential.  This film asks the question: “If we were allowed to remake ourselves in our own image, what would it be?”  I would recommend this film for sci-fi fans, fans of monster movies, and fans of those old Virtuality arcade games.


PS: Near the end of the film, Jobe prophesizes that he will be able to download himself into the virtual world completely, and then he would pass into the global telecommunications network.  When that was supposed to happen, every phone in the world would ring.  I won’t give the ending away, but it’s an interesting idea.  Virtual Reality may not have come true, but the computer has spread to nearly every aspect of modern life.  Cellphones, PDAs, Blackberries, and even the cars we drive have computer chips in them.  We are plugged in constantly.  Our virtual and physical realities have now merged.  Whether or not Jobe was able to make the phones ring back in 1992, they will not stop ringing now.