Film: The Lawnmower Man

Don't let the smile fool you, he's not that happy.

"I am God here!"
Jobe Smith

A 1992 movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey. It was directed by Brett Leonard. Brosnan plays Dr. Lawrence Angelo, who works for Virtual Space Industries developing a intellect-enhancing program known as Project 5, which increases the intelligence of chimpanzees using drugs and virtual reality.

One of the chimps goes on a rampage with a gun through the lab, which causes Angelo to leave and start a new life elsewhere. He soon meets Jobe Smith (played by Jeff Fahey), a mentally handicapped lawnmower man, whose guardian is an abusive priest named Father McKeen. Jobe is also friends with Peter, Angelo's neighbors' young son.

Angelo decides he would like to continue his studies of intelligence enhancement, but without needing to apply it for military purposes. He realizes that he needs a human subject, and that Jobe would be the perfect candidate.

Angelo convinces Jobe to be the subject of his experiments, telling him it will make him smarter. Within a short time, Jobe's intelligence begins to show an increase, and Angelo takes Jobe to his lab to continue the experiments there.

Soon Jobe notices that he can manipulate objects with his mind, as well as hear the thoughts of others. The project director, under guidance of The Shop, replaces Angelo's new medication with the original Project 5 aggression drugs.

Jobe's powers and intelligence continue to grow, and he soon takes it upon himself to punish those who wronged him. First he burns Father McKeen to death, followed by torturing a gas station owner named Jake by forcing his brain to be continuously chopped to bits by a lawnmower man with a lawnmower for a mouth (because Jake punched him). Jobe finishes his revenge by killing Peter's abusive father, by literally mowing him down with a lawnmower. Then he uses his powers to convince the police that the murders were only "bizarre accidents".

Jobe then decides it's time for him ascend to the final level of human evolution, by becoming pure energy within the VSI computer system at the lab. After his ascension, he plans to exit the computer and escape into every system in the world, where his first act will be to make every telephone in the world ring in unison.

The Shop sends a team to capture Jobe, but are quickly defeated by Jobe's immense powers. Jobe returns to the lab, killing the guards along the way before entering the VSI mainframe. Once inside, he finds himself unable to leave, as Angelo has disabled all the connections.

Angelo returns to the lab with Peter and his mother Carla, and heads into the building to plant bombs. Angelo then joins Jobe in the virtual world and argues with him; an angry Jobe overpowers and crucifies him, then enters his mind and finds out about the bombs.

Jobe tries to defuse the bombs, but discovers without his body, he can no longer manipulate objects in the physical world. At that moment, Peter runs into the building. Jobe, still caring about Peter, releases Angelo, and the two run out of the building as it blows up all around them. Seconds before the mainframe can be destroyed, Jobe finds a hidden exit and escapes the computer.

As the film ends, Angelo, Peter, and Carla are all back home, as Angelo contemplates Jobe's death. Suddenly, Angelo's phone begins to ring, followed by another, and another. We cut to see different cities across the globe, as every phone begins to ring at once.

Basically, think Flowers for Algernon crossed with TRON and a latter act taking cues from Elfen Lied, and you're somewhere on the right track.

The CGI, which was quite impressive at the time, hasn't aged well. Especially Jobe's Digital Avatar, which sometimes enters Uncanny Valley. Then again, the avatarnote  isn't supposed to be photorealistic: it's the self-made A God Am I image of an abused mental-defective who just got superhuman powers from untested military psychotropic drugs. Bizarreness is to be expected.

The film performed modestly at the box office, making over $32 million (against its $10 million budget). It became successful on home video when a sequel was greenlit called Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace in 1996. Almost none of the main actors reprise their roles (with the exception of Austin O'Brien, who plays Peter) and was poorly received by critics and audiences, even landing a spot on the IMDb Bottom 100 list.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Peter's father. Father McKeen could fit this trope as well.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Jobe at a certain point plans to this, becoming Pure Energy by entering the mainframe during a VR trip. And he succeeds. Though unlike most examples of the trope, his physical body withers instead of disappearing. (one of the many things the sequel ignores)
  • Anti-Villain: Jobe in the theatrical cut of the first film, as he appears to genuinely believe that by uploading himself into the internet he'll be helping mankind enter a new era, and only kills people who've directly wronged him or his friends. Much less so in the Director's Cut of the film, where he crosses the line into being outright evil when he takes control of Dr. Angelo's wife and forces her to attack The Shop's agents, resulting in her being messily shot to death. And completely averted in the second film, where he's just a Card-Carrying Villain.
  • Asshole Victim: All of Jobe's victims fall under this trope, which is why nobody really feels bad when Jobe kills them. The sole exception being Marnie, though her Mind Rape isn't caused by Jobe but by VSI's director reverting the VR system to the original aggressive programming. It is implied that this is why that particular trip goes bad.
  • The Bad Guy Wins/Downer Ending: Phones ringing at the end means Jobe wins... Or not, seeing how the second film retconned it.
  • Continuity Snarl: One of the many gripes reviewers had with the sequel is regarding how many inconsistencies they have in following the original (for starters, Jobe apparently didn't enter cyberspace leaving a decaying body behind).
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: A variation in the first film, as the head of The Shop fills this role, but is technically a government employee. Jonathan Walker in the second film is an outright example.
  • Cyber Space: The second film depicts the Internet as having evolved into some sort of world-wide virtual reality network.
  • Cyber Punk: The first film has some vaguely Cyber-Punkish elements, though is really more of a techno-thriller. The second film is more an outright example, to the extent where it often feels like Blade Runner meets Johnny Mnemonic.
  • Digital Avatar: People who use virtual reality in both films have these, with the users in the first films getting more stylized ones, and those in the second just looking like their real-life counterparts.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: The Lawnmower Man's desired outcome. First the telephone network, then the world!
  • Dumb Is Good: ...and smart is bad.
    • Maybe, although you could interpret the film in a way where Dr. Angelo is guilty of scientific hubris and exploiting an abused mentally handicapped man while Jobe's intentions are more or less benevolent, arguably even after Dr. Angelo's boss meddles with the experiments and he goes on a killing spree of abusive jerks. Whether such ambiguities are intentional, however...
  • Everything Is Online: When Jobe escapes into cyberspace he gains control over every phone in the world.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Jobe has a deep menacing voice after he transfers himself into cyberspace. When he discovers that Peter, the boy he befriended, is inside the booby-trapped installation looking for him and Angelo, Jobe's voice briefly returns to normal as he releases Angelo so the latter can save Peter.
  • Freak Out: Jobe after Terry, one of the few people who was ever nice to him, is accidentally killed by guards targeting him.
  • A God Am I: The original title of the movie was Cyber God, before it was combined with the Stephen King short story, The Lawnmower Man.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We don't see the moment when Jobe messily kills Peter's father with a telekinetically-controlled lawnmower. Averted later on however, as we get a fairly graphic shot of Jobe forcing the sniper who unwittingly killed Terry to shoot himself through the head.
  • Holographic Terminal: When in cyberspace.
  • Hypocrite: Angelo convinces Jobe to go through with the initial experiment by arguing that the experiment could make Jobe smart enough that people could no longer take advantage of him, like Angelo is doing.
  • Huge Holographic Head: Jobe is able to project himself as this at a certain point. A yellow-tinted head, no less.
  • In Name Only: This film and Stephen King's original short story are both called The Lawnmower Man, and that's about it. You might think the identical titles are just a coincidence, but apparently not- several promotional posters referred to the film as Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man, at least until the author sued to distance himself from the film. The court explicitly forbade New Line Cinema from using Stephen King's name in conjunction with the film and required them to pay him 2.5 million dollars in damages. Not content with the ruling, New Line attempted to stealth market the film under the name "Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man" in several major cities. New Line Cinemas was found to be in contempt of court and had to pay King $10,000 per day until they removed his name from all associated product. King did like the film, mind you. It just wasn't his story, which led to the suit.
    • The film does have a short scene where Peter's abusive father is butchered by a telekinetically steered lawnmower that's modeled after the short story, but, apart from both the movie and the short story having to do with lawnmowers, that's about it.
    • Interestingly, the movie references The Shop, which comes straight out another King novel and more or less has the same Government Conspiracy role.
    • The sequel somehow manages to do this twice, having next to no continuity with either the short story or the first film.
  • Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Jobe and Marnie's sex scene, which unfortunately turns into Mind Rape.
  • Mind Rape: Besides the Jobe and Marnie virtual sex scene that leaves her catatonic when it turns into rape due to Jobe's loss of control over his powers, there is also the scene when Jobe, who's now both more in control of his growing powers and becoming more villainous, psychically unleashes a "Lawnmower Man" inside the head of a bully, purposely rendering him catatonic as well.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jobe's neighbor and later affair Marnie, played by Near Dark 's Jenny Wright.
  • Psychic Powers: Jobe starts off by gaining telepathy, then telekinesis, followed by pyrokinesis, and finally the ability to cause people to disintegrate on the molecular level.
  • Start of Darkness: His inadvertently destroying Marnie's mind is implied to be what starts Jobe's descent into outright villainy.
    • It is probably triggered earlier, during the first session Jobe has after the VR system is reverted to its original programming.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Dr. Benjamin Trace from the sequel is a clear stand-in for Dr. Angelo.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Jobe says this pretty much word-for-word in the first film's climax, after Angelo calls him a "freak."
  • Time Bomb: Dr. Angelo had fifteen minutes to escape from the building before it blew up. Plenty of time, but then he went to talk to God Mode Jobe...
  • Title Drop: Several characters in the first film, especially the bullies at the gas station, call Jobe the "Lawnmower Man." Jobe himself later drops the title when he Mind Rapes one of said bullies, and tells him that "the Lawnmower Man's in your head now."
  • Tron Lines: Jobe gets a pretty TRON like outfit once he starts killing people in the real world.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Could be argued this is what happened to Jobe.
    • It actually starts happening after the VR system is reverted back to the original Project 5 aggressive programming.