The word “mnemonic” has nothing to do with anything in the movie. Nothing. It’s just a weird word that makes the title sound fancy.
As an adjective, “mnemonic” means “aiding or designed to aid the memory” or “relating to the power of memory”. As a noun, it means a special word or poem that helps you recall a set of connected ideas—like “FANBOYS”, which reminds you of seven coordinating conjunctions in English: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
But the premise of Johnny Mnemonic is that the protagonist is carrying data in his head like a drug mule and doesn’t even know what it is! Moreover, he doesn’t remember much about himself; he dumped his memories to make more space to carry data. From the title, I would have guessed he had a special memory skill, but no. He just has a cybernetic upgrade that turned his brain into a (rather faulty) hard drive. He’s nothing special. Might as well be named John Doe.
William Gibson wrote the screenplay as well as the short story of the same name, so the title was his choice, nothing to do with Hollywood. Maybe he picked it because the character wishes he could remember his childhood?
See below for more on what the movie is like and why I didn’t particularly like it.
What does Johnny Mnemonic remind you of?
This movie is like a cross between The Matrix and Paycheck and, I dunno, something violent and dystopian and a few years older, like Total Recall, because it’s violent and dystopian, involves someone who rents out his brain to people who ultimately betray him and has his memories wiped, and stars Keanu as the savior of the techno-futuristic yet suffering human world, and a black guy runs the ragged resistance. Oh, and Minority Report, because why have internet if you aren’t manipulating commands with your hands suspended in the air?! And heck why not Tron too… what would the internet be without a cheesy visualization of the data “landscape”?
What’s to like about Johnny Mnemonic?
I didn’t like it, for many of the reasons Johnny himself says he doesn’t like it. The world of the movie is dirty and gritty and ugly. “I want my shirts laundered like they do at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.” And I want my violence stylized, like in John Wick, and bathed in smooth neon light, not covered in rust and reeking of rubbish.
I don’t like the message that corporations would obviously rather make money treating a chronic disease than curing it. I’m disappointed but not surprised. Thanks, Hollywood.
Still, I’m glad to have seen this bit of 1990s futurism (set in 2021) because I love The Matrix, and this is a step on the path that got Keanu to that place in his career.