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Johnny Mnemonic

Screening on Film
Directed by Robert Longo.
With Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Dina Meyer.
Canada/US, 1995, 35mm, color, 98 min.
Print source: Swank

Written by William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk fiction, and the only film directed by “Pictures Generation” artist Robert Longo, Johnny Mnemonic is a ballsy, nearly indescribable fantasia—as smart and speculative as it is a wild, barely comprehensible mess. Keanu Reeves plays a cybernetically altered courier tasked with transporting sensitive information in his brain because computer networks are heavily surveilled by megacorporations. When Johnny overloads on information and his mission goes awry, he relies on the help of antitechnology outcasts and a heroin-addicted, cybernetically enhanced dolphin to get the information out of his head before the quantity of information overwhelms his brain—or before he is killed by Big Pharma, who knows that he is carrying the cure for a nerve-related disease caused by sensory overstimulation. Johnny Mnemonic participates in the overstimulation that it critiques; Longo directs with visual exuberance, maximizing the possibilities of digital abstraction while incorporating references to artists like Nam June Paik. (And a robotic, very white, super-killer Jesus.) As Katherine Hayles has written, Gibson uses “contrast between the body’s limitations and cyberspace’s power to highlight the advantages of pattern over presence”—while demonstrating how a world defined by digital pattern is terrible for the body. 

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