Just for some perspective, I remember watching The Lawnmower Man many years ago when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure I watched it on basic cable. I remember really liking it, upon my initial viewing. Keep in mind, it was the early 90’s and the special effects available were very limited compared to the computer generated spectacles being produced in Hollywood today. Special effects aside, I still like this film. I loved the idea of the using technology to empower the less fortunate. However after watching the film again many years, I picked up on several other themes. Specifically with the Director’s Cut which offers nearly 40 minutes of additional footage from the film’s theatrical cut.
The Lawnmower Man is directed by Brett Leonard, who is also credited with the film’s screenplay along with Gimel Everett for the science fiction horror film. Coincidentally, Leonard would direct a similarly-themed thriller just a few years later called Virtuosity (1995) starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
Most notable for portraying James Bond four times on the big screen among many other film and television credits, Pierce Brosnan plays Dr. Lawrence Angelo. The plot centers on Dr. Angelo’s quest to help a mentally-challenged man named Jobe (Jeff Fahey) overcome his disability through science and technology. While many may not be familiar with Fahey, the veteran actor has numerous acting credits. Most recently for supporting roles in Alita: Battle Angel and Wu Assassins.
The film sees Jobe go from an abused and harassed landscaper to having god-like abilities through Dr.Angelo’s treatments. While the initial results are positive for Jobe, the side effects quickly take a dangerous turn. This is the overall theme as best expressed in the film’s tagline “God made him simple, science made him a God.” There are several other aspects explored in this film.
The Sheer Shadiness of VSI
The film opens with some foreshadowing, when viewers are first introduced to Dr. Angelo at Virtual Space Industries (VSI) using chimpanzees as test subjects. Animal testing is only the tip of iceberg of wrongdoing of VSI.
Working for the almighty government contract, VSI is testing a new infrared helmet for military use on the chimpanzees. To better test the technology, Dr Angelo trains the chimps through treatments consisting of virtual reality simulation and enhancement drugs.
One particular test subject, named Roscoe, becomes a star test subject for Dr.Angelo. The advanced chimp uses his abilities and head gear to escape his confines at the facility while disarming and killing a guard in the process before crossing paths with Jobe in the outside world.
Roscoe’s escape comes to a violent end following a stand-off with armed VSI guards at a nearby church. Dr. Angelo’s pleas for a more peaceful resolution fail as the armed chimpanzee and Jobe’s new best friend is fatally shot. Immediately following the incident, a VSI official then bribes the church’s priest with a substantial contribution to keep word of the incident from spreading.
VSI head honchos would also undermine Dr. Angelo by giving an untested treatment, called project 5, to Jobe. Dr.Angelo stressed project 5 was not meant to be tested on humans.
Keep in mind, Dr. Angelo had good intentions with his work on jobe as explained to the director (Dean Norris). Upon raising Jobe’s IQ considerably, Dr. Angelo believed his work could cure others with autism or dementia.
“Virtual Reality hold the key to the evolution of the human mind,” Dr. Angelo.
However, the evil corporation would probably be more interested in harvesting Jobe for his new found abilities.
A Whole Lot of 1990’s Tech and Fashion
Special effects and visual spectacles in present day cinema have obviously come a long way since this film’s release in 1992. This becomes apparent during the film’s numerous TRON-like virtual reality scenes. The fiery death scene of the abusive Father Francis McKeen is also kind of laughable by today’s standards
The film definitely had an early 90’s vibe from the Dr. Angelo’s sporting one earring, to also showcasing early flight simulators for VR use, a floating mouse along with early versions of VR headsets. When in full VR mode at the VSI facility, the film’s main characters would wear their specialized suits within a gyroscope.
These spherical rides, also known as aerotrim, were pretty popular in the early 90’s, often being available for public use at festivals and shopping malls.
New World Order
Jobe undergoes a huge arc in the film from being introduced as a mentally- challenged landscaper with an interest in comic books and mechanical work to gaining extraordinary abilities while aiming to “cleanse humanity.”
While Jobe ditches his human body, the film’s ending shows him escaping into cyber space before the explosion at the VSI facility. The ringing of telephones throughout the world suggests Jobe accomplished his goal and a new world order of sorts is on the horizon.
The sequel, Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, does pick up where the first film leaves off. However, many regard the sequel as an awful movie in general, in which most of the original cast did not return. The terrible sequel aside, one could imagine what Jobe had in store for humanity.
Keep in mind, Jobe has the kind of back story that would make any villain proud. He was bullied, abused and generally thought less of due to his handicap, before becoming god-like. During the treatment process in which Jobe learns the entire world’s history, Jobe reveals there is a lot of tragedy and sadness.
One could guess that Jobe was either going to (a) wipe out humanity bringing upon a ‘Judgement Day’ of reckoning, or (B) insert his consciousness into everyone like the bully gas attendant to rid the world of evil.
VR Bromance — Dr. Angelo and Jobe
Without a doubt, the film centers on Dr. Angelo and Jobe, both who are completely different characters. While Dr. Angelo is well-educated and well-respected, his counterpart is polar opposite. However, both find themselves in similar situations.
The mentally-challenged Jobe is living in what could best be described as a shack near a church, while keeping busy by mowing lawns. He also regularly encounters an abusive priest and a harassing gas station attendant who often mocks his disability. Spoiler alert, they both get what is coming to them via Jobe 2.0. Dr. Angelo is also going undergoing turmoil in his personal life by dealing with an unsatisfied spouse and is constantly at odds with his VSI superiors.
Both characters are also driven to find solutions to the issues they face. For instance, Dr. Angelo decides to help Jobe after being sidelined at VSI following the Roscoe incident. Earlier in the film, Jobe is revealed to be mechanically-inclined after repairing his ‘big red’ lawnmower by himself. While big red is very useful when cutting grass, it is also useful in menacing and gruesomely killing abusive drunk fathers, who have it coming.
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