The Movie Night Diaries: Circuitry Man
The Movie Night Diaries at Where the Long Tail Ends looks at 1990’s science-fiction romp Circuitry Man, directed by Steven Lovy. Circuitry Man stars Vernon Wells (of Road Warrior fame) and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Fletch, Tombstone).
We’re shifting gears a bit here at The Movie Night Diaries. This is the first science-fiction film we’ve had a look at in some time. 1990’s Circuitry Man is a dystopian look at what the world might have become if man ravaged the earth so thoroughly that, along with being driven underground, we left only the human mind as the final frontier — the human mind, that is, hopped up on thought-altering empathy chips that allow a person to connect to everything from other human beings to household appliances.
Dana Wheeler-Nicholson is Lori, a down-on-her-luck bodyguard, forced into one final gig for the sinister underground chip dealer Juice, beautifully portrayed by Lu Leonard. Enter Plughead (Vernon Wells), a psychotherapist turned criminal whose head is covered in ports allowing him to jack into anything. Plughead is Juice’s former analyst and number one customer. When one of Juice’s chip deals turns sour, Lori is left with a batch of illicit brain chips and on the run from the vengeful Plughead. With the help of pleasure android Danner (played by Jim Metzler) and a colorful subterranean dweller named Leech (Dennis Christopher), Lori emerges above-ground in an effort to get across the ravaged wasteland between California and New York City to unload the chips and escape Plughead and his henchmen.
Circuitry Man seems to have come out on the very cusp of the recent technological revolution that brought us, among other things, the Internet and virtual reality. Of course, those technologies have existed in one shape or another for some time, but it wasn’t until after Circuitry Man that they achieved a popular status. And it is things about these emerging technologies that frighten us — how much will I depend on technology, is my brain my own, where does technology stop and where do I begin — that give Circuitry Man its appeal. It is foremost a work of speculative science-fiction that presages the changes that we are just beginning to see now. Sure, we’re a bit removed from being able to plug into our brains, and we haven’t had to move underground yet, but — if taken to the extreme — the environmental threats and technological innovations of today have had a profound effect on us already. Circuitry Man looks farther ahead in time to an age when the most dire of consequences have left us a damaged people, dependent on technology for our very survival and living on the back of a depressed and poisonous planet.
I enjoyed moments of Circuitry Man quite a bit; still, at other points, the movie dragged a little and felt like it needed a jump-start from Plughead. It has a similar punk-rock feel to it that places it alongside films like Repo Man that feature cool protagonists pitted against a corrupt establishment. Vernon Wells is excellent as Plughead, and the rest of the cast shines as well. Circuitry Man may not go down as one of the better techno-fear films of that age, but it is a film that fans of dystopian science-fiction will enjoy.