Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Johnny 2.0 (Starring Jeff Fahey)

Coaxed gently out of its shell comes another film signed Jeff Fahey. Already the screams of hyperbole can be heard humming whimsy over the forgotten silence. The seconds sweep past bearing Fahey’s autograph, yawning into moments tailored to hold Fahey’s filmic image. His channels of cinematic hunger turned image are containers born to carry Fahey’s essence. Odourless and soundless, the vacuum has spilled into it coursing streams of artistry and erudition, malt froth bubbling insight, a wash of glistening texture.

From the kilns that mark his skin and drip through time on a carpet of wild blonde, films are given existence. The true, scientifically-verifiable nature of the process will never be fully known to us – Fahey discloses only through his art. The power of metaphor is the one tool we have to capture the process. To represent the genesis we must cast eyes into a lightless deep now alive in light, lit by blue flames that drive away the pitch past. The names differ upon each new notch pierced through the ether; this one calls itself Johnny 2.0.

It’s been said that snakes see in heat. Jeff Fahey sees in social commentary. His eye for topicality is clearly on show here and it bats admonitory lashes at both the few and the many. Never has Fahey had room for complacency – one time he met complacency for a drink but that was only because it promised him a part in a Stephen King miniseries. Complacency hangs not to Fahey, for it is the target for which he aims, one of the numberless targets that flee when the light of Fahey is turned on.

Fahey is Johnny Dalton, a scientist, who has perfected the technique of cloning. While celebrating the success of his research, industrial terrorists bust into his lab. They destroy equipment and set animals free, leaving the lab in flames. In the inevitable confrontation Fahey gets a whack on the head and is taken to receive medical treatment. Next thing, he wakes up twenty years thence. (The white walls are enough to know it’s the future – doubtless it won’t be until 2010 before some visionary finally invents those things.)

Fahey opens his eyes and meets the future. But it’s not Fahey, oh no, it’s a clone. His corporate paymasters have recreated him from the MRI scan he received after the knock on the head. So, poor Johnny Dalton died that night and it’s taken them two decades to complete his research and enable the cloning of a human being? Not quite. Dalton lived and continued his games with the double helix. The future not being too removed from the present, industrial terrorists are once again causing problems. They’ve kidnapped Fahey, leaving only one course of action for the company: build a new Fahey to find the old Fahey.

It’s an astoundingly brilliant scenario, one that’ll be appreciated by even those fools resistant to the charms of Fahey. Naysayers will crumble as the world of Johnny 2.0 flashes into view. A dystopia, swelling with Demolition Man jaggedness, where the nation state is no more, replaced by the corporations that run private police forces serving their needs, this is perfect terrain for Fahey the Second to find Fahey the First. Reluctance to the mission is soon dealt death as the sneaky money goons make it so Fahey cannot decline: a genetic defect in the clones means they die after a period of time, but Original Fahey has the solution to the problem. A race against time is what Cloned Fahey enters into, the motive foisted upon him unwillingly.

Best thing about this whole set up is Missing Fahey. Aged by many years, he wears a head of long silver hair with a beard similarly silver. His is the face of the hippy recluse, a character who should have starred in a Dennis Hopper film, who should have rode through America on the back of a Llama singing hymns to India. Fahey wore a hat in Ghost Rock, but his Johnny 2.0 guise, one of them, proves a new height in the field of Items that Fahey Wears on his Head. No amount of Stetsons can surpass the silver wizard hair that flows from atop Fahey’s skull.

In 1996, the first mammal was cloned. Her name was Dolly the Sheep. The news spread fast as media coverage was extensive. Discussion and debate raged, questions of ethics were raised, sheer curiosity mingled with uncertainty and hesitation. Fahey pondered this issue and then came out with Johnny 2.0 in 1998. Fahey’s conclusions, as suggested by the film, were that the power should not be in the hands of those bodies inclined to misuse it (big corporate powers), that lust for scientific exploration could potentially be supplanted by megalomaniacal urges for more power (and immortality), that clones should be the recipients of empathy (not gunfire), and that cloning should be a sacrosanct process functioning to assist the species (and not causing Fahey plot difficulties).

Fahey’s commenting eyes have winked words on technology and science in the past. The Lawnmower Man addressed virtual reality. Absolute Zero global warming. Scorpius Gigantus the manipulation of genetic materials. Fahey uses his art as implements with which to poke and prod the world, wealthy blue scrutinising the micro and the macro, the general and the particular. A vibrant web of meaning is created. Even his handle of choice provokes one into rumination: Dalton. The same Dalton who once graced the screen as James Bond? The Dalton of Licence to Kill, the finest film ever to emerge from the series? Perhaps. We don’t know. Fahey persists in always injecting some modicum of ambiguity into his work, just enough to stimulate our minds. Fahey’s grand matrix of commentary stretches far, one thing signifying another in an everlasting cluster of signification.

Johnny 2.0’s main gift to us is the multitude of Faheys. Two Faheys let loose to flame onscreen in dreamscapes turned real. The animosity of one Fahey towards another prompts a moment or two of Fighting Faheys. Fahey already fought his own limbs in Body Parts, but this is the first time he’s fought an entire self. It is truly as impressive as it sounds. And even after they form an uneasy truce, the tension between the two is enchanting. Fahey and his double – the double and his Fahey. The answerless question of autonomy is inscribed upon the fear of the double: am I the one or is it he? The singularity that defines the self is attacked by doubt in the dust of unsanctioned fragmentation. Bisected Fahey must make do with his own multiplicity, gain a new sense of identity and mourn his own lack of wizard locks.

Fahey’s journey in search of himself doesn’t consist of some lame Wild Strawberries-esque delving into the mind, a trip through memory and neuroses. Fahey has no time for that. His voyage of self-discovery has him set out to find his actual self, the man who has his face, his timbre of voice, his beaming blue, his mumbling lips of discourse – the man they call Jeff Fahey.


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