Long, long ago in the rapidly turned-over history of popular cinema – I mean the mid '80s – the teen movie genre started entertaining fantasies about the computer age. Films including Weird Science, My Science Project and Real Genius, all from the golden year of 1985, gave us the first glimpses of teenagers in cyberspace: zipping through time and space on both real and virtual planes in their quest for zany experience.
At least one actor from this period, Fisher Stevens, has been caught in a vicious time warp. For here he is again in Hackers, eleven years later, as a computer genius named The Plague – no longer siding with teenagers, alas, but corrupted by the sinister ideology of big business. "There's no right and wrong," he preaches. "Only fun and boring!"
But The Plague does not have the last word in this movie. The kids are still all right – particularly when they are righteous dudes like Dade (Jonny Lee Miller from Trainspotting ), Kate (Angelina Jolie) and Cereal (Matthew Lillard). These teens are modern outlaws, hacking at whim into any unfortunate institution which is on-line.
Every techno-fantasy that has emerged since computers became popularly consumed is on show in Hackers. The romance that info-terrorism and its social subversions will be wielded by noble, beautiful young people; the dream of the Internet as a new global community; the paranoid, Gothic nightmare about governments and corporations monitoring and controlling all technology on the planet; and, last but not least, the feverish hope that virtual forms of communication and exchange between people will be indescribably sexy.
Hackers could easily have been a load of techno-bollocks. But the miracle is that, under the direction of Iain Softley (Backbeat, 1993), it works like a dream.
And speaking of dreams, viewers of a psychoanalytic bent will be especially intrigued by the range of eroticised mother-figures in this film – and the related absence of father-figures. The Plague's older lover is bad mother Margo (rendered as a sluttish bimbo by Lorraine Bracco), while Dade's Mum, a glamorous symbol of '60s rebellion, is played by Alberta Watson – hitherto glimpsed on screen in the throes of mother-son incest in Spanking the Monkey (1994).
Even young Kate is a strangely mature, knowing, super-sexy siren in the midst of all her nervy and virginal male comrades. So is this movie the full-blown, wet-dream fantasy of every nerdish boy ever drawn to a computer terminal? I suspect so – but the fantasy is nonetheless compelling and beautifully brought to life. Hackers is a slick, funny, exciting, completely persuasive teen movie for the '90s.
MORE Softley: The Wings of the Dove
© Adrian Martin July 1996