The Lawnmower Man - Movie Analysis and Review
1992 Movie Poster
The point of the movie "The Lawnmower Man" is the danger of world domination through technology. Released in 1992, it is a science fiction/horror story depicting the life of a mentally-simple young man who is stimulated to advance his thinking skills, and subsequently becomes so intelligent that he manipulates and takes over those who taught him.
Prior to doing more research about this film, I had written:
I have never read the book on which this story is supposedly based, which I understand is a short story by Stephen King. In general, I like King's work very much, as to me, it is full of pathos and sweet heart connections. But I’ve noticed that his stories often don’t translate particularly well to film, being based more in emotions than action. Such, I suppose, is the case with this one. I have a feeling it was dumbed down from its original atmosphere. This analysis is not intended to be negative, or to bash anyone’s work. However, I have shared what I feel are some glaring flaws in the film. In spite of these flaws, I feel the story has unusual potential, and deserves the ongoing, if quiet, recognition which it has received over the years. I wrote this review with the intent of helping those who may not have seen it, to sort out whether it was something they wanted to spend time on, or perhaps put in front of their children. It contains a wisdom which is not often achieved, yet fails to balance its observations with any kind of saving grace. As such, it is not bad...merely unfinished. (I haven’t seen the sequel, so about that can say nothing.)
Since then, I was able to confirm my hunch:
"The film was originally titled Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man, but King successfully sued the producers for attaching his name to the film and stated in court documents that the film "bore no meaningful resemblance" to his story.An earlier short film, also titled "The Lawnmower Man", is a more faithful adaptation of the short story. It was directed by Jim Gonis in 1987."
Such runs the money trail.
Summary of Movie
"Jobe" begins as a simple, downtrodden orphan who is looked after by a domineering Catholic priest. He's been told so often that he's stupid and good-for-nothing that he believes it, until befriended by Dr. Angelo, whose specialty is virtual reality and simulation computer programs.
Dr. Angelo's obsession with his work has led to a separation with his wife/girlfriend, and a disaster at the laboratory has caused him to take a break from his professional duties. In spite of his troubles, he is soft-spoken and likeable, and Job sees him as an encouraging friend, who recognizes his one apparent area of intelligence - mechanics, and the improvement of his special lawnmower.
When Dr. Angelo begins working with Jobe, his aim - beyond testing a pet theory about how the brain functions - is to make Jobe's life easier and more enjoyable, by allowing him to think for himself, and so possibly remove some of the harassment Jobe receives from the locals. Dr. Angelo is reasonably sure he can improve Jobe's intelligence, as his laboratory experiments with chimpanzees suggested he was on the right track as to manipulating brain chemistry. At first, the improvements are minimal, and Jobe is easily discouraged. He enjoys his time with Dr. Angelo, playing video games alongside a gradeschool boy who likes Jobe, and never harasses him, but he is unsure that he'll ever be noticeably smarter.
Dr. Angelo has developed a special chemical formulation that he believes can induce greater intelligence, and he administers this to Jobe through a painless shot. As it begins to work, Jobe begins to change his outlook, and the way he feels about himself. He begins to dress more nicely, and gains a girlfriend. He also begins to experience disturbing episodes wherein he can hear other people's thoughts. Eventually, he finds that he can use his mind to control objects, and that in fact there is no difference between the physical and virtual or thought world, besides perception.
He uses these new-found powers to wreak revenge on those who have wronged him. When Dr. Angelo tries to stop him, he finds that Jobe has become more intelligent and powerful than he had dreamed possible, and that the only way he has of keeping Jobe from continuing to hurt others is to block him through virtual means. In the ensuing struggle, Dr. Angelo believes Jobe has been killed in an explosion which destroys the laboratory, and that the greatest struggle lies now in the need to forgive himself for not helping Jobe retain the gentleness and mercy he had while still simple.
To his horror, he discovers that, while now physically unreachable, Jobe has conquered the virtual system meant to trap him, and has infiltrated the communications systems worldwide, with his own thoughts and senses.
Drawing an appropriate conclusion about all this is left up to you, the viewer.
Jobs Smith, Having Gained Power
Points to Consider - 1) Characterization
The emotions and tensions of this movie are basically effective. That is, one feels a sympathy for Jobe when he is downtrodden and simple, and something between admiration and hatred when he begins to grow powerful. Dr. Angelo remains likeable throughout the movie, as does the gradeschool boy who befriends Jobe. Many of the supporting characters, however, are two-dimensional and stereotypical. Jobe's girlfriend, while understandable, is shallow and suited only to the purpose of relieving him of his innocence. When she outlives her usefulness, she is conveniently eliminated through an "accident" which leaves her insane. Likewise, others yield very much what one expects from them. Those who are in positions of authority in the company for which Dr. Angelo works are entirely defined by their bureaucratic attitudes, and are eliminated because of their lack of imagination. The gradeschool boy's abusive father is a beer-guzzling, wrestling-watching creep who is defined by meaningless temper-tantrums, and is eliminated ultimately because of his cowardice. (He is probably hypoglycemic, and ate lead paint chips as a child.) Likewise, the others who harrass Jobe are perpetually ill-mannered and insecure, and in the case of the priest, looking for reasons to be angry. All this may seem necessary to ensure that Jobe remains at the forefront, but I felt that the characterization was unimaginative. Even Job himself is a sculpted, blue-eyed hunk whose only initial indication of trauma is a hunched posture, which he automatically outgrows upon increasing his intelligence. He experiences no notable speech difficulties, indicating self-loathing or insecurity, has little trouble confronting others and speaking his mind (except where there exists conditioning by an authority figure such as the priest), and never seems to dwell on his pain, even in the form of nightmares or daydreams. Basically, he is not as shut-down as one would anticipate a person in his condition to be, and while possible, I do not feel this attitude is likely.
2) Overall Message
The message of technology being used to control populations is an old theme, explored by many writers and movie producers. But I feel there was a further, underlying theme in this story, being that of the inevitable dark bent of Man's heart. Practically everyone in the movie besides Dr. Angelo was set on some selfish scheme which resulted in the destruction of others...and as Dr. Angelo was pursuing his work with Jobe for personal reasons of curiosity and glory, he cannot be considered an exception to this rule. The young boy's mother - wife of the abusive drunkard - can be set apart, but she has such a minor role to play in the movie that she's little more than a blip on the screen. She also is stereotypical in that she will not proactively protect her child from abuse, and she allows her son to hang out with Jobe because it's better than being at home in harm's way. So, we see the theme of a dark heart (selfishness) acted out over and over. Jobe's girlfriend seduces him for selfish ends. Dr. Angelo engages Jobe's cooperation for ultimately selfish ends. Jobe selfishly murders those who have wronged him or who stand in the way of his dream of world domination. He believes he is suited to the role of ultra-authority because of his superior intelligence, never taking into account the innate right of others to exercise their free will. In effect, he becomes what he first loathed in others, as he automatically becomes an enraged bully when thwarted. As there is no obvious religious slant to this movie, the definable message reads, "Power corrupts, as the only choice left to the intelligent is to manipulate the less intelligent." Or, put another way, "Intelligence leads to arrogance." The role of scientific advances is minor when paired against this theme, suggesting only that advances in technology make it easier to manipulate others.
Dr. Angelo, Jobe's Friend and Teacher
The murders, staged largely through Jobe's imagination paired with his knowledge of virtual reality, are disturbing mostly for their focus on creating fear. In other words, they are torturous. The use of spontaneous combustion, a flying lawnmower, and the disintegration of the living into video-game like particles has an almost Dante-like quality, as the method of punishment is matched to the personal fears and sins of each victim. Likewise, though Jobe's girlfriend is not physically murdered, her mind and heart are damaged through his use of nightmare-like games.
When my children saw this movie, I was concerned that they might be disturbed by these elements. Instead, they recognized the almost cartoonish quality of the murders, and laughed at the disintegrations, picking out the eyeballs in the swirling masses of particles. I wasn't sure how to feel about this, until I pictured what sorts of movies could be produced from some of the more gruesome Grimm's fairytales, upon which I had been nurtured since a child. I suppose every generation has its special way of depicting horrors, and of laughing at the ones past.
In spite of its flaws and lacks, I felt that "The Lawnmower Man" did an interesting job of reintroducing the subject of technological advances vs. Man's greed, and has a fair potential for sparking assessment of one's own heart attitudes. In this light, it is a success.
© 2018 Joilene Rasmussen