Surviving A Science Fictional Year: Family Sci-Fi

Short Circuit (1986)Short Circuit 2 (1988)E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)Batteries Not Included (1987)Flight of The Navigator (1986)


Of all my posts so far, I feel like this one has the most tenuous link between the films reviewed. But when I made my list, I had the distinct idea that these belonged together. Short Circuit and it’s sequel are obvious, but the others– less so.

So let’s start with Johnny Five. I have no reference for how many times I watched Short Circuit as a kid. I know I would show it to any new friends I made, and it was one of my comfort movies along with a handful of others. I remember seeing Johnny Five and not being quite sure to what extent he wasn’t real, but wishing I could meet him.

Because one of my favorite things to do (if you haven’t noticed) is interpret movies through a gnostic lens, I couldn’t help but see a sort of gnostic (Buddhist might be more accurate) bent to this story. The first few minutes is Johnny’s own creation story: we see circuit boards assembled, processors soldered, hardware molded, shaved, tinkered and installed. Johnny’s Eden, or life in innocence, is brute matter. No will, no awareness, no choice; a literal machine who “just runs programs” and Newton and Ben will frequently remind us. His fall from grace happens to be curiosity and choice, not too dissimilar from the Bible’s own creation story. His awakening is even a literal lightning bolt to the head, a fairly obvious reference to our own notion of a brain storm. It also has the connotation of divine intervention: Zeus’ and Thor’s lightning bolts, but the Bible is rife with examples of God controlling the weather.


Someday, if we’re lucky.

In terms of Buddhism (Tibetan, specifically), there’s the idea of Kundalini, or the serpent which sits, coiled, at the base of your spine. By uncoiling the serpent and allowing it exit through the top of your skull, you achieve enlightenment. Johnny Five’s enlightenment seems to have taken the shape of a reverse Kundalini.

Throughout the movie, and this is a unifying feature of all five of these movies, Johnny is portrayed as being very childlike, which makes sense given that he’s a three (five?) days old at the end of the movie. But there’s also a Buddhist approach to his childlikeness. In Buddhism, again, there’s the notion that, at birth, a person still retains total knowledge from their brief contact with Nirvana during the death and rebirth cycle. They, however unfortunately, have no ability to communicate this total knowledge as their meat body is too poorly equipped for this. Even worse is that as a person begins to accumulate knowledge from within the world, they begin to forget their contact with enlightenment.

Johnny forgets all his material knowledge, but retains his ability to read and process. In that way, he isn’t very Buddhist, but he becomes Buddhist with his instant and intense respect of life. There’s very much the idea that the first to achieve enlightenment has the purist scope of the world with how opposed he is to killing, even expressing crippling guilt when accidentally smashing a grasshopper.

But then the second movie, Short Circuit 2… ugh. My first note I wrote is, “fucking terrible music,” because the music is the worst possible 80’s nonsense you can imagine.

I suppose if you wanted to continue with the Buddhist analysis, this is the story of Johnny’s corruption: he helps more than one person make a fortune, and ends the movie covered in gold, which could possibly be a symbol of his de-Buddhafication.

But it can’t, because it’s a garbage movie made by garbage people.

The resolution of the movie is baffling. The, apparent, greatest achievement is Johnny being recognized as a citizen though he himself never expressed such a desire: he was just tired of being treated like a machine. But as a resolution, this fails to be satisfying.

It’s fascinating to me how hungry humans are for state approval. I suppose since we live in states, it’s an almost impossible thing to avoid, but a state’s declaration amounts to little more than the loudest kid on the playground announcing that they’re cool. A state’s declaration has no actual bearing on the objective reality of a thing: Johnny Five either is or is not a living being, and being given a certificate that says one or the other doesn’t make that objective reality any deeper (or not).

Dumb. Disappointing. Dumb, dumb.

In fact, I have to run with this Buddhist interpretation for, like, two more minutes to make my life feel like less of a colossal waste for having watched this movie.

Adherence or infatuation with how a state moves might possibly be, in Buddhist and Gnostic terms, the epitome of the fall from the heavenly state. Buddhism has been described by some of its adherence as “perfect present mindedness,” pure dedication to this moment as it presents itself, worrying for no hypothetical or abstract moment. What else is a state’s movement but nothing but hypothetical and abstract movement? Getting into law reveals a complex organ of definitions and concepts that have no life outside of that organ. Even worse, as citizens in a state, when we vote on something, even if it’s for an expanded right, we’re voting on limiting our own potential as potential seeking beings. In Gnostic terms, we’re gods giving up our own godhood for no great return. In Buddhist terms, we’re voluntarily sacrificing our own presentness for a quagmire of future abstraction. Perhaps Johnny Five covered in gold is the best possible representation of trading our own enlightenment for state sponsored baubles.

For E.T., click Page 2!