Full of futuristic and interesting concepts, Johnny Mnemonic blew me away when I first saw it. Granted, my standards were much lower back then, so anything science fiction related was an instant favorite. When you add to that Keanu Reeves and an engaging story, you get one hell of a movie. We follow Johnny, a cybernetically augmented information courier on his last job. You can guess how that’s going to go. The next time I saw the movie, I found it a bit clunky and without a real atmosphere. There’s so much potential here that you would expect the atmosphere to be the highlight of the movie. This is probably stemming from the fact that this is Robert Longo’s first and last movie he directed. However, after seeing it recently, I fell in love with it again. I guess now it has that nineties nostalgia vibe all over it.
Just as the credits were rolling, I saw something that explained why Johnny Mnemonic is such a pioneering and creative movie. It’s based on a novel written by William Gibson, who also wrote the script. The father of cyberpunk whose book Neuromancer changed the literary scene overnight did an amazing job here. The story is straightforward and easy to follow while the characters are well developed and reflective of the world back then. Again we will be delving into the world of corrupt and ruthless corporations looking only at the profit margins. The world is bleak, decaying, and very dangerous. Opposite of it we have huge technological advances in a form of cybernetic implants and augmentation. Johnny’s jack in the head looks exactly like Elon Musk’s Neuralink.
It is the year of our lord Satan 2021 and the world is ruled by greedy corporations with the economy in ruins. Most people live short and violent lives, usually spending them completely immersed in the Internet. Something that causes nerve attenuation syndrome or NAS, a plague that has decimated the population. This is also a time when people use technology to enhance their abilities. One of them is Johnny, who has a special mnemonic implant in his brain. He uses it to transport important data from one place to another safely. However, Johnny wants to quit his job. The only problem is that he doesn’t have enough credits to do that. So he takes up one last job. A very dangerous last job that will see him uncover a conspiracy of giant proportions.
I find it hilarious that the movie is taking place now, in 2021. Actually, it already happened as we see that most of the story is taking place in January. Johnny Mnemonic is definitely a guilty pleasure movie. It’s delightfully dated with the capacity of the implants being whopping 160 gigabytes. And that’s after doubling it. I mean right from the opening scene depicting how browsing the internet looks like you know where this is going. However, there are some really important moral questions being asked here. Most of them can be summed up in a brilliant speech by none other Henry Rollins playing Spider. We can all see and feel that this information overload is not good for us. Not to mention the work practices, with corporations exploiting workers almost everywhere in the world.
Just take the example of Amazon, a corporation owned by the richest man in the world Jeff Bezos. The conditions their workers have to endure are truly horrible. The same Bezos who’s now, along with another billionaire Elon Musk, taking over space travel. I mean, most of the stuff that was predicted in all these books and movies is slowly becoming reality. The boiling frog effect is all too real. This is just one of the themes in the movie. We haven’t even talked about the cybernetic implants and how we’re already seeing some aspects of this available to the general public. However, I will leave the rest of the fun stuff for you to discover as that’s one of the best things about this movie.
As you might have guessed, Keanu Reeves did his thing as a lead along with Dina Meyer, who you might remember as Flores from Starship Troopers. I know I sure do and that has nothing to do with that shower scene. Now, the decision to cast Keanu is a contentious one. Especially since he’s here much more dudey than in Matrix for example. If they only went with Bruce Willis, I think this would have been a much better movie. The rest of the cast is phenomenal with names like Ice-T, Lundgren, and even Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi). Finally, I know this is a flawed movie and the Gibson purists don’t like it. However, it’s also entertaining and charming, with a lot of cool concepts and warnings about the future. If you’re looking for similar movies check out Strange Days, Hardware, Virtuosity, Cyborg 2, Nemesis, and The Lawnmower Man. Hit me!!!
Director: Robert Longo
Writer: William Gibson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, Takeshi Kitano, Denis Akiyama, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins
Fun Facts: Robert Longo and William Gibson were looking to make an art film on a small budget, but didn’t get the financing. Longo commented that the project “started out as an arty $1.5 million movie, and it became a $30 million movie, because we couldn’t get a million and a half.”