As sci-fi fans, we’ve become accustomed to being shortchanged by reality. The hoverboards and self-lacing shoes promised to us by some of our favorite 80s and early 90s films have yet to hit the market. We’re still eons away from developing teleportation abilities. No one’s talked seriously about laser gun manufacturing in years. And that’s fine. Really, we can tie our own sneakers and it doesn’t feel like now is the moment to test whether robots would betray us if given the chance anyway. But every so often we’re reminded of a fictional technological advancement so imaginative, so avant-garde, so deliciously weird, we can’t help but be a little salty at how cruelly some of those old-school sci-fi movies teased us over the years.
Because it’s 2021, and Keanu Reeves practically swore that cybernetic dolphins with heroin addictions would exist and we. don’t. see. them. anywhere!
We can suffer through a pandemic and inter-generational wars that hinge on whether skinny jeans and side parts are still cool. We can even survive the notion that a segment of the population is campaigning for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad cut because they actually want to see more of Jared Leto’s Joker. We can.
But asking us to live with the knowledge that humans had the chance to communicate with dolphins using VR headsets and we didn’t take advantage of it because … I don’t know, umbrella drones and toilets that monitor your bowel movements seemed more important? It’s too much.
If you’re lost (and, if you want to get philosophical for a second, aren’t we all?) let me explain. The early 90s saw an influx of futuristic-minded action films. Some were good and some were called Johnny Mnemonic.
Now, Johnny Mnemonic has somewhat of a cult following thanks to its cyberpunk dystopian setting and the fact that it featured a young Keanu Reeves doing what amounts to a feature-length audition tape for his eventual Matrix gig. Reeves plays the titular character, a mnemonic courier who’s had a chip implanted in his brain so that he can store and transport sensitive information across a kind of VR-inspired idea of the internet, called simply, the Net. The downside to Johnny’s job is that the more gigabytes he downloads, the less space there is for childhood memories. That makes Johnny sad, so he agrees to do one last transport to earn enough money for a surgery that would remove the chip and restore his memories.
Unfortunately for Johnny, this “last job” ends up being a doozy. The world is in the middle of a pandemic brought on by humanity’s overreliance on technology — basically, we’ve all spent too much time on social media and now we’re having seizures all the time. The data Johnny ends up agreeing to store in his brain contains the cure for this disease, and that’s lucrative information for nefarious Big Pharma companies and Yakuza gang leaders hoping to profit from the world basically going to sh*t.
There are some wild visuals this movie asks us to process: Dolph Lundgren as a crazed, cybernetically enhanced street preacher who looks like a Skid Row Jesus, Ice-T wearing ski-goggles and face-paint while leading an underground resistance called the LoTeks, a future in which Newark, New Jersey is one of the world’s most developed cities. But the craziest thing this film gives us is dolphins. Specifically, one dolphin named Jones.
Jones is a Navy vet, trained by the military to decrypt data. He’s the co-leader of this sewer-dwelling grassroots group and he pops up just in time to help Johnny hack his own brain, discover the code to unlock the data in his mind, and cure the Wi-Fi-enabled disease ravaging the planet.
And sure, it sounds weird. A porpoise sporting a metal brain cap chatting it up with Keanu Reeves and hacking the Matrix to give us all access to better healthcare? It’s the kind of fever dream you wake up from after a night of Goop-inspired psychedelics research and a Dolphin Tale marathon. But here’s the thing, plenty of other bizarre tech Johnny Mnemonic predicted has been ushered into our shared reality. Maybe not the pocket-sized fax machines or electric whips that slice men in two, but government monitoring of massive amounts of private information, virtual reality headsets and gaming gloves, video-call capabilities, electronic passports, full-body scans … those are all actual inventions that have been forced on us. Even Johnny’s brain implant, one that lets you download ridiculous amounts of information, kind of resembles a recent Elon Musk brainchild.
And if we’re to believe we might one day be able to upgrade our cranium software the same way we do our iPhone storage plan, then sci-fi can deliver on its forgotten promise of AOL chatting with a marine mammal.
We want that future, the one Johnny Mnemonic sold to us, almost as badly as Keanu Reeves wants room service.
Make it happen, 2021.