Saturday, February 24, 2024


There is no point in listing how the 1995 film “Johnny Mnemonic” incorrectly predicts the world of 2021 – CRT television screens, Concorde remaining in flight, 320 GB storage capacity being a large number – as not all science fiction is speculative fiction, although I was amused by Johnny (Keanu Reeves) explaining that the encryption code for the information downloaded to his mind should be sent by fax to its destination. My focus should be on it story, which is good, but I don’t think it is told well:

“Second decade of the 21st century. Corporations rule. The world is threatened by a new plague... its cause and cure unknown. The corporations are opposed by LoTeks, a resistance movement risen from the streets...The corporations defend themselves. They hire the Yakuza... But the LoTeks wait in their strongholds, in the old city cores, like rats in the walls of the world. The most valuable information must sometimes be entrusted to mnemonic couriers, elite agents who smuggle data in wet-wired brain implants.”

A sure-way to turn my attention off from a film is by starting with a text crawl setting the scene. The most egregious example I personally came across was “Broken Blossoms” a 1919 film written and directed by D.W. Griffith that, while a silent film, betrays the visual talent of someone known as the progenitor of much of the language of film we use to this day, the copious inter-title cards reading like chapters from a book, chapters I am required to read.

With “Blade Runner” having influenced the cyberpunk genre over a decade before the release of “Johnny Mnemonic” (1995), adapted by “Neuromancer” author William Gibson from his own short story, audiences would be familiar enough with this dystopian, corporation-run, neon-drenched world of rainy nights for it to be taken as written, but without needing to write it – everything else can be given its portrayal when we reach that stage in the plot.

There are more characters in this film than Gibson’s story, but it feels like this is to move Johnny, the central character but also the MacGuffin whose brain holds what everyone needs, around the film – more than once is it made clear that only his head is needed, and the intentionally robotic acting of Reeves doesn’t make him endearing, like his mention that he had to delete his childhood memories to have more, well, drive space, is to make him a tragic figure.

The film was originally to have been a lower-budgeted production in the vein of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville”, a science-fiction film noir story set amongst contemporary Paris that I have talked about previously. The casting of Keanu Reeves, hot from the success of “Speed”, as Johnny gave it a higher profile, production budget and expectation, making it the blockbuster film it was never intended to be. Director Robert Longo since re-edited and released a version in black and white, bringing closer to his original intention, but the story could still be adapted again.

“Johnny Mnemonic” today seems to exist as the bridge between “Blade Runner” and “The Matrix” – indeed, the Wachowski sisters told the “New Yorker” magazine in 2012 that they used the film to sell their story, perhaps as shorthand for the cyberpunk genre that Sony, releasing the film through TriStar, hoped to capitalise on. For one thing, “The Matrix” had daylight at times...

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