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Johnny Mnemonic Gets A Different Story

How It Should Have Started

By Stephanie Van OrmanPublished 2 months ago 5 min read
Johnny Mnemonic Gets A Different Story
Photo by Aideal Hwa on Unsplash

As I am the novelist of six science fiction novels, I feel I can comment on this film and how it is confused. 'Johnny Mnemonic' is about a man who has given up his childhood memories in order to become a walking USB memory stick by storing sensitive information in his brain for travel. *SPOILER ALERT* At the end of the film, he gets his childhood memories back and they're so idealized that one has to wonder if they are real. Balloons? Grass? We haven't seen a blade of grass the entire film with the entire thing taking place in concrete jungles.

The film begins with Johnny waking up. He's mostly naked in bed with a woman in the bathroom. When she comes out of the bathroom, she clearly doesn't know him. Whether she is a one-night stand or a hooker, it is unclear, but either way, she's a woman on the prowl from what she was wearing the night before. The purpose of her character is to establish that Johnny has no memories, doesn't really know who he is, and that he's a desirable sexual partner because they just finished (important plot exposition and information needed to establish Johnny's character). Unfortunately, the encounter makes Johnny look bad. When she leaves, he asks her where she's going and she says she's going for ice. He checks the ice bucket and sees that they have ice. He tells her so, but she's already gone. The act of his telling her that they have ice suggests that he wanted her to stay, but she blows him off so completely that it makes him look like she found him uninteresting both in his dialogue (no memory so he has nothing to talk about) and that he was a boring lay. It's all pretty insulting.

Johnny's reaction to her leaving suggests that this has happened before, with other women, countless times. He gets on the video phone with his work contact and tries desperately to assert his dominance by yelling at his dispatcher. It makes Johnny come off as a total jerkface.

His dispatcher is also his contact for arranging for the procedure that would restore Johnny's memories and he informs Johnny that it's going to take more money than he thought. Johnny has to do one really expensive, dangerous job, to pay for the operation before he can get out of the game.

Now, a smart man might realize that this is the sort of arrangement where people are disposable. His dispatcher is weirdly chill compared to Johnny, who seems out of control in his dissatisfaction. Johnny goes to do the job, but if I were the author, I would take control of our one-night stand and bring her back into the room before Johnny gets the rest of the way dressed.

I would have allowed her to stand at the door and hear most of Johnny's conversation with his dispatcher. When the call ended, I'd have her come in with a full ice bucket, shrug off her coat, and tell Johnny he needs to order some food. While he was figuring out some room service (because we know he wanted her to stay), she pulls up a chair beside the bed and sits on it.

Now the way she sits on this chair is very important. She sits on it with her legs apart (considering what she's wearing that might be a tad more revealing than usual, but she has already had sex with him, so there isn't much point in being modest). She puts one palm on one of her knees and her elbow on the other. The pose shows her willingness to be intimate with him.

He finishes ordering room service and gives her his full attention.

She begins by telling him that her name is Anya (something soft with no harsh letters in it, so Sarah, or Anna, or Samantha all would have done as well).

Then she tells him that her childhood was crap and so was his. "Listen," she says softly. "You would not have chosen to remove your childhood if it had been something worth keeping. When you gave it up, you gave up the time you were raped by your neighbor's dad at nine. You gave up how your father left you and your mother died of illness. You gave up how your sister ran off with a man who tattooed his name across her nose and cheeks to show everyone how he owned her. You gave it up because the life you have now is better than the one you left behind. I know you feel like you're missing something. We're all missing something. Someone promised us a cookie-cutter life with grass and balloons, smiles and ice cream, and people who love us and hold us dear. But if we want that as adults, we have to make it for ourselves. As you've probably guessed, I'm not good at making the cookie-cutter life either. What do you say, we eat, and talk about what sort of lives we want to make to see if we want the same things?"

She stands up and clears a place on a side table for them to eat.

He stops and clasps her hand. "You heard my conversation?"

She nods.

He's confused. "You know what I am and you're not going to tell me to refuse the job?"

Very gently, she explains, "Look, if I could control you, I would make you stay with me just to have our conversation. Whether our dreams align or not is something else. You decide."

From there, Johnny would take the job, but the point of the movie would not be to get his memories back, it would be to get back to Anya to have that conversation. The end montage of memories would not be his childhood memories, but the future he makes with her.

Racing backward to get your childhood memories just seems wasteful to me. Loads of people remember very little about their childhoods and it doesn't make them ill-adjusted adults. I even know a lot of adults who had terrible childhoods who have successfully shaken off whatever happened and moved forward to create a life worth living.

Among the many things fiction can provide, one of them should be a blueprint of how to make something healthy now. None of us can change the past.

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About the Creator

Stephanie Van Orman

I write novels like I am part-printer, part book factory, and a little girl running away with a balloon. I'm here as an experiment and I'm unsure if this is a place where I can fit in. We'll see.

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