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Film / The Lawnmower Man

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God made him simple. Science made him a god.
"This universe is mine! I am God here!"
Jobe Smith

The Lawnmower Man is a 1992 Science Fiction film starring Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey. It was directed by Brett Leonard who wrote the screenplay together with Gimel Everett. The film's title is taken from the Stephen King short story of the same name, but aside from a single scene that is (more or less) the same, the two works share absolutely no similarities.

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. But when one of the chimps goes on a rampage through the lab with a gun, Angelo decides to quit the experiment and start a new life elsewhere. He soon meets Jobe Smith (played by Fahey), a mentally handicapped lawnmower man, whose guardian is an abusive priest named Father McKeen (Jeremy Slate). Jobe is also friends with Peter Parkette (Austin O'Brien), 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. The experiments are successful and Jobe's intelligence starts to grow as a result, and he even begins to exhibit powers of telepathy and telekinesis, being able manipulate objects with his mind, as well as hear the thoughts of others. Unfortunately, Angelo’s boss secretly swaps Angelo’s new serum for the original Project 5 formula, turning Jobe aggressive. With his newfound intelligence and powers, Jobe soon decides that it was about time he punished those who have wronged him throughout his life...

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

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).

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • 90% of Your Brain: The explanation for Jobe's powers are essentially this explained as by Dr. Angelo. Jobe later speculates that the virtual reality, intelligence augmentation, and psychic powers were actually Lost Common Knowledge which Dr. Angelo has accidentally rediscovered through technology.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The movie is vaguely described as taking place at "the turn of the millennium", but beyond the advanced technology appears like any other 90s film. The sequel however, which is supposed to be set only six years afterwards, shows a very futuristic developed society more akin to Blade Runner or AKIRA.
  • Abusive Parents: Peter's father. Father McKeen could fit this trope as well.
  • Actor Allusion: Matt Frewer (In the sequel film) playing someone in a 20 Minutes into the Future The Meraverse? Granted, Jobe's much more villainous than Max Headroom.
  • Adaptation Amalgamation: A rather weird example, which was "adapted" from a short story by Stephen King using it as an In Name Only stunt for an original screenplay. King sued the filmmakers to remove his name from the credits, and, especially the film's marketing. This is somewhat odd because a) King actually liked the film, b) it has a lot of his common themes in it, and c) the film actually featured a scene adapted straight from the short story and a dialogue between two policemen is taken line-to-line from it.
  • And I Must Scream: Timms has his molecules only partially scattered by Jobe, left in a helpless state where he repeatedly nearly comes back together before flying apart again.
  • 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. Zig-zagged in the second film, where while he may be a Card-Carrying Villain, it’s largely implied that it’s because the VR treatment used to rehabilitate him brought CyberJobe back as if it were a split personality (Jobe’s even terrified of it when the doctors tell him about it, to the point of removing the harness they’re trying to put on him, knowing what will happen). When CyberJobe is defeated, Jobe returns to his old, pleasant self.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Jobe at a certain point plans to do 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).
  • Asshole Victim: All of Jobe's victims fall under this trope, which is why nobody really feels bad when Jobe kills them. Jake (the only non-lethal example as he was submitted to a Fate Worse than Death instead), Father McKeen, and especially Harold Parkette qualify. 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. Also Caroline, Dr. Angelo's wife in the director's cut.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Phones ringing at the end means Jobe wins... Or not, seeing how the second film retconned it.
  • Bee Afraid: Jobe conjures a swarm of VR bees to attack the guards at the front gate.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Not the true cause of his Start of Darkness, but Jobe being pushed around by others prior to his intelligence boost does play a part in his rampage. Also being subjected to the same aggressive programming as the Psycho Prototype Killer Space Monkey could have definitely played a role.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: Jobe breaks into Dr. Angelo's house and puts on the VR googles and then uses it to conjure a vision of himself back when he was mentally deficient and innocent. Later, he uses the googles to show Angelo a VR image of himself talking to Dr. Angelo as though he were still in that state (but obviously isn't). Why Jobe does this is never explained, other than him being creepy.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Jobe mind-controls Caroline, Dr. Angelo's wife, and then sends her outside with a gun to confront the Shop's armed Mooks.
  • Buy Them Off: Both Timms and Dr. Angelo promise to 'make a substantial contribution' to Father McKeen's church if there are any problems concerning Jobe.
  • Canon Foreigner: Essentially everybody except for Harold Parkette, who's only a minor character here.
  • 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.
  • Cyberpunk: 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.
  • Dead Star Walking: Veteran actor Jeremy Slate, aka Canadian Sergeant Rock Sgt. Patrick O'Neill dies an Asshole Victim.
  • Declaration of Personal Independence: Jobe delivers one to the abusive Father McKeen when he tries to discipline him again. "You should knock before you come into somebody's house! This is my house. I pay the rent, I want to cash my checks now because I want to buy some new clothes. And I'm gonna buy some cowboy boots and I'm going to make this... place a ranch."
  • Digital Abomination: Jobe Smith undergoes VR and drug experiments which enhances his mind so much he gains telepathy, then telekinesis, followed by pyrokinesis, and finally the ability to cause people to disintegrate on the molecular level. Eventually he becomes a digital monstrosity by inserting his mind into cyberspace and plans to spread his mind across the Internet to obtain true godhood. His digital avatar only shows how much of a cyberspace eldritch creature Jobe has become by the end of the film.
  • 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!
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Peter's mother dies sometime prior to the second movie.
  • Dumbass No More: As the brain simulation takes effect and he is encouraged to learn more, Jobe acts less and less like a Manchild and more like a functioning adult, gaining more confidence, assertiveness, and taking up new responsibilities, establishing better relationships, and setting new goals... and then he also starts developing the Psychic Powers, and it's all downhill from there...
  • Dumb Is Good: ...and smart is bad.
  • Enlightened Antagonist: Jobe sees virtual reality as utopia that will evolve humanity, and he will be the conduit to lead the species there.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Terry and Peter to Jobe.
  • Everything Is Online: When Jobe escapes into cyberspace he gains control over every phone in the world.
  • Evil Genius: Jobe, after his intelligence enhancement.
  • 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.
  • "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome: The film version embraces this trope as the Central Theme.
  • Forgot About His Powers: For once, this happens literally in the second film; Jobe is left with amnesia as the result of being caught in the explosions at the end of the first film, meaning that while he may still be super-intelligent, he no longer knows how to use any of the other powers he had.
    • When Jobe is frantically trying to escape from the mainframe computer, trapped because of Dr. Angelo's computer virus sealing him off from the outside, Jobe reads Dr Angelo's mind to find out about the planted explosives, but doesn't think to read his mind to also learn the access codes or a means to escape from the same man who created the virus that is now imprisoning him?
  • Freak Out: Jobe after Terry, one of the few people who was ever nice to him, is accidentally killed by guards targeting him.
    • Also Cyberjobe's God-Form while trapped in the mainframe.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Jobe goes from a push-over Kindhearted Simpleton to a megalomaniacal Evil Genius with powers of telepathy and telekinesis.
  • 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. The movie is best remembered for Jobe's line: "I am God here!"
  • Genius Serum: What the drugs and the VR mental simulation basically is.
  • 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 products. 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 of 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.
  • Killer Space Monkey: More like killer cyberspace monkey, as one of Angelo's VR-helmeted apes escapes and starts to gun down actual human guards. It's unclear if the chimpanzee truly realizes it's killing people or if it just can't tell actual thermographic footage of the facility's personnel apart from the video-game characters it's been trained to hunt down, Doom-style.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Jobe, prior to gaining intelligence.
  • Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Jobe and Marnie's sex scene, which unfortunately turns into Mind Rape.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Dr. Angelo gets forced to meet with representatives of the Shop. While he's gone, Jobe passes the point of no return, killed several people. When Angelo returns, Jobe has already broken into his house, brainwashed his wife, and is putting the final steps of his evil plan in place.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Jake, a hick redneck gas station attendant who belittles Jobe for his retardation on a regular basis.
  • The Metaverse: The second film depicts the Internet as having evolved into some sort of world-wide virtual reality network.
  • 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. He also does this to Caroline in the director's cut, turning her into a Brainwashed Stepford wife.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jobe's neighbor and later affair Marnie, played by Near Dark 's Jenny Wright.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Jobe is genuinely horrified when he discovers that his cyber-sex with Marnie went too far and left her catatonic.
    • Dr. Angelo takes full responsibility for Jobe's situation (even after he discovers that Timms tampered with the experiment on the Director of The Shop's orders) to the point that he sits fit to blow up the VSI headquarters and stop Jobe's plan himself.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: It is only when Jobe starts gaining intellect and dressing differently, that Marnie, Jobe's neighbor and client, start taking a romantic interest in him.
  • Not Quite Dead: In the sequel, Walker, despite seemingly being shot to death by his own guards, shows up after Jobe is defeated to take the chip back at gunpoint.
  • Papa Wolf: Jobe doesn't take too kindly to seeing Peter being harmed, especially by his father, Harold. This is why Harold's death is the most gruesome of the bunch.
  • Parental Substitute: Compared to the more abusive Father McKeen, his brother Terry is much nicer to Jobe. Beyond putting Jobe to work doing the lawn-mowing job he loves, he also tries to help Jobe learn to drive and to stand up for himself against bullies, and even encourages him to go after Marnie. Needless to say, Jobe is immensely distraught when Terry gets needlessly killed by a sniper who was targeting Jobe, and forces the gunman to pull quite the nasty revenge on himself.
  • Pet the Dog: Even at the height of his power and insanity, Jobe briefly pauses his rambling when he hears Peter's voice. It is then that he releases Dr. Angelo and tells him to go save Peter from the bombs that Angelo planted earlier, saying "I don't want more death. Go. Save him!"
    • Earlier in the movie, Jobe induces sleep in Peter and his mother so that they won't have to witness Peter's abusive dad get horrifically killed by the lawnmower.
  • Psychic Powers: Jobe starts off by gaining telepathy, then telekinesis, followed by Mind Control and pyrokinesis, and finally the ability to cause people to disintegrate on the molecular level.
  • Psycho Prototype: Rosko 1138, the chimpanzee programmed to be a Super-Soldier by the same processes that are later used on Jobe.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: In the sequel, Dr. Benjamin Trace tries to knock out a security guard by repeatedly punching him in the face, except that he doesn't go down that easily.
  • Reality Warper: Jobe's powers become so great that he gains the ability to apparently manifest virtual reality creations in the real world. He creates a swarm of virtual bees to attack the guards at the front gate.
  • Restoration of Sanity: The sequel ends with Jobe's intelligence being removed, and with it going his insane megalomania.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Once Jobe's powers and madness have both progressed enough, he begins going on a night spree taking vengeance against everyone who's wronged him throughout his life, ending with Mr. Parkette after he abuses his son and Jobe's friend Peter once again.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Caroline gets fed up and leaves Dr. Angelo early in the film, and isn't heard from again, presumably saving herself from getting caught up in all the weirdness that follows. Averted by the director's cut, which has Jobe Mind Rape Caroline into becoming a mindless, docile housewife for Dr. Angelo, much to the latter's horror.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Francis McKeen, a corrupt priest who submits Jobe to corporal punishment on a regular basis.
  • Super-Speed Reading: Dr. Angelo switches out the direct mental stimulation to Jobe in favor of interactive learning software, starting with the subject of history. Jobe then adjusts the speed of the program (because normal speed was putting him to sleep), and then breezes his way through a 100 hours worth in only an hour or two, while retaining 100% of all the information that was presented to him.
  • Super-Soldier: Project 5 was initially using the VR technology to make chimpanzees into this.
  • Start of Darkness: It probably starts during the first session Jobe has after the VR system is reverted to its original programming — although the director's cut has him inadvertently destroying Marnie's mind, which is implied to be what starts Jobe's descent into outright villainy. But then by that point, the VR system had already been altered so both Jobe and Mernie would have been subjected to the same hostile programming...
  • Surpassed the Teacher: Jobe delivers a dark version of this to a terrified Dr. Angelo. "You realize, Dr. Angelo, that my intelligence has surpassed yours... And I can't allow your fear of what you don't understand to get in the way of this work."
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Dr. Benjamin Trace from the sequel is a clear stand-in for Dr. Angelo.
  • Take Over the World: Ultimately Jobe's plan. "I'm going to help you, Dr. Angelo. I'm gonna help all of you cleanse this diseased planet." "You need to be led, just like everyone else."
  • The World Is Not Ready: Dr. Angelo says such to Jobe once Jobe starts to really scare him. "You're moving too fast. Even with these new abilities, there are dangers. Man may evolve a thousandfold through this technology but the rush... must be tempered with wisdom."
  • 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." It's dropped earlier in the director's cut as Jobe is telling Roscoe 1138 about himself, saying it's a nickname he got because he fixes machines and mows lawns better than anyone.
  • Tron Lines: The VR suits used for the cyclotron at VSI by Angelo and Jobe have these, and they light up whenever Jobe uses his Psychic Powers while he's wearing it.
  • Video Phone: Video phone booths appear in the futuristic Los Angeles setting of the sequel.
  • Weirdness Censor: As Dr. Angelo is talking with two police officers about the gruesome murders that happened at the Parkette house and the church, the officers suddenly make eye contact with Jobe staring at them from across the block, and after a few seconds of blank looks change their tune and nonchalantly conclude that the incidents were just "accidents" and go about their way. Notably though, even before Jobe messes with their minds, one of the officers suggests that the case of Father McKeen's Man on Fire death could be a case of "Spontaneous Human Combustion" that he heard happens sometimes.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Subverted. Jobe was handling his new powers of intelligence just fine, until the VR system is reverted back to the original Project 5 aggressive programming.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: In the sequel, when Walker finds out that Jobe is going to double cross him, Jobe locks him out of his control room, then makes a call (as Walker) about some terrorists having been located in the building… right where Walker, Jennifer, and the head of security are. No pouts for guessing how that turns out, although Walker does pull a Not Quite Dead.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Averted for the most part in the first film, where whatever happens to you in the virtual world can't affect you in reality unless something goes severely wrong. Played straight in the second, where dying for any reason in virtual reality can kill you in real-life.
    • Played straight in one scene where Jobe tests a study that he read where lesions could appear on a test subject after being hypnotized. He tries it on himself, causing lesions to appear on his hand after concentrating.

Alternative Title(s): Lawnmower Man 2 Beyond Cyberspace