‘Science made him a god’: A Review of The Lawnmower Man’

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Wow…I did not expect this in the slightest.

Originally titled as Cyber God, and then Stephen King’s: The Lawnmower Man (even though it virtually bore no resemblance to his short story) and finally The Lawnmower Man after King’s lawsuit, the plot is as follows:

‘The eccentric Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) puts mentally disabled landscaper Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) on a regimen of experimental pills and computer-simulated training sequences in hopes of augmenting the man’s intelligence. In time, Jobe becomes noticeably brighter and begins to fare much better with the opposite sex. But, as he develops psychic powers, he realizes that those around him have taken advantage of his simplicity his whole life, and he plots a bloody revenge.’

The Lawnmower Man follows similar beats to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon laced with the cyberpunk trappings of a Gibsonian novel and even Tron. Though it sounds familiar to the films Lucy and Transcendence, there is something that neither film could scarcely muster; and that is a heart. I will admit, I did not go in expecting to like this film, and even after my initial viewing, I really didn’t think much of it. However, after mulling it over, I found myself drawn to this early nineties gem.

There is some care to the treatment of virtual reality and the concept coming of the virtual messiah. These are themes that I am personally interested in my own work, so when I see these ideas laid before me, I shiver. One of my favourite books is Flowers for Algernon and to see it commingled with cyberpunk brings a smile to my cynical face. To see the melancholia wrap its tainted tendrils around the protagonist Jobe as he not only learns of humanity’s brutal history but yearns to become our messiah is chilling. It did remind me a little of Skynet, and perhaps that was intentional, but nevertheless, I rather enjoyed the way the primary story unfolded.

‘Falling, floating, and flying? So, what’s next, fucking?’

The duality between Dr. Lawrence Angelo and Jobe is something I rather enjoyed as well. Again, I rather enjoy the J. Robert Oppenheimer trope of I am become destroyer of worlds. To not only create a weapon of mass destruction, but to witness its power and sheer ferocity is something that challenges and disturbs, something in which was conveyed well by Pierce Brosnan. He did border on the inane and, at times, annoyed me with his overt narration, but this was somewhat bearable, especially when he confronts Jobe, the cyber god, in the mainframe and duke it out in pure, unadulterated nineties CGI glory.

I also enjoyed how screenplay writers, Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett, incorporated the motif of religion throughout the film. It is mostly overt but does eventually pay off.

‘Jobe, listen to yourself right now. The first sign of psychosis is a Christ complex.’

But, and this is a big but, this film is mostly bad. Tonally, The Lawnmower Man is challenged and is a comedy, a melodrama, a crime thriller, a techy piece and even a schmaltzy film. I feel as if it was trying to go for the serious route, but occasionally, the campiness overwhelms the screen, from the extraordinarily dated effects to the hilarious chimpanzee murder scene in the beginning (which was, for a time, my favourite scene).

The acting is also mostly flat which was exacerbated by the two and a half hours of mostly dull scenes containing science babble and comically evil corporation dialogue. I felt as if there were two conflicting movies, both of which could have made for two different and distinct films. The Lawnmower Man would have been stronger if its primary focus was Jobe and Dr. Angelo slated as the secondary protagonist, like how Keys had written Flowers for Algernon. It would have made for a far more interesting film as the audience member would not only be privy to the thoughts and feelings of Jobe but feel emotionally invested into his transfiguration (or mutilation) into godhood.

‘This technology is simply a route to powers that conjurers and alchemists used centuries ago. The human race lost that knowledge and now I’m reclaiming it through virtual reality.’

Overall, the film is mostly dull until it passes the hour mark, so if you are keen on watching the film, be prepared for a slog. When it does get going, however, it does make for an interesting cyberpunk hacker flick with a serious messiah complex. The final CGI scene is perhaps one of my all-time favourite interpretations of a conflict in cyberspace, so take that for what you will.

I do hate saying that The Lawnmower Man is a bad film, but if I were going by my normal rating system it would possibly score below a five. But there is something that I cannot put my finger on. Something in my ear urging me on, encouraging me to rate this higher. My inner cyber child wants me to score this higher, and on this occasion, I think I’ll bend the rules. Just this once.

I also urge you to give this film a chance if you haven’t already. You can purchase a copy for yourself here.

The Lawnmower Man – 6/10

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3 Responses to “‘Science made him a god’: A Review of The Lawnmower Man’”

  1. A few bits – mostly dialogue- remain from the Stephen King short story: the best is the cops talking about what’s left of the alcoholic, abusive dad who got lawnmower’d: “where’s the rest of him?” “Birdbath.”

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