Saturday, July 06, 2013




“Geoff Murphy directed this time-travel chase movie. Emilio Estevez stars as Alex Furlong, a racecar driver from 1991, who is just about to experience a deadly crash in his Formula Atlantic. But at the last moment Alex finds himself transported to the streets of New York in 2009. He is saved from certain death and zapped into the future by 21st-century bounty hunter Vacendak (Mick Jagger), who wants to take over Alex's body. Alex escapes Vacendak's clutches and decides to look up an old girlfriend. When he locates Julie (Rene Russo), he enlists her support to help him from being captured by Vacendak. Much to Alex's surprise, he discovers that Julie now works as a top executive for a giant corporation presided over by McCandless (Anthony Hopkins). Julie, separated from Alex for almost twenty years, must decide whether to renew their relationship. But there is not much time for thought by either party, since Vacendak is still coming after Alex.” – Rovi’s AllMovie Guide


“The year 2009 will be recreated on Hollywood Boulevard in an extravaganza featuring eight futuristic vehicles… These will include a 75-foot people mover, a supersonic limousine along with 21st century taxis and motorcycles, which will parade down Hollywood Boulevard.” So exclaimed the press release for the 1992 world premier of Freejack. “Emerging from these will be some of the real-life characters from the film as well as a cast of 45 extras posing as the film's ‘bone-jackers’ (futuristic bounty hunters) and Peace Police. This will be followed by the star-studded arrivals of the film's stars as well as other top stars from all phases of film, television and the music industry… Stars expected include Sting, Madonna, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Paula Abdul, Andrew Dice Clay, Brian Wilson, Harry Shearer and Spinal Tap, Stevie Nicks, Poison, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Julian Lennon, David Byrne, Pat Benatar and many more.” So what did Freejack have that managed to attract such a luminous list of rock royalty (for 1992 anyway)? Why Mick Jagger and David Johansen in starring roles of course.

I guess it’s nice all those fine folks got to watch their forefathers on the big screen, but really, couldn’t somebody have warned the rest of us that the future was going to be populated almost entirely by haggard aging rock stars? At least then we would have had time to hide all the liquor. Of course, given the future depicted in Freejack it kind of makes sense that rock stars would survive. After all, besides the rats and cockroaches, who else besides rock stars would have an immune system already accustomed to the ravages of pollution and drug abuse which has left most of the rest of the population in Freejack in a constant state of deteriorating health. Oh wait, Rene Russo and Jerry Hall were once fashion models, weren’t they? Chances are they probably didn’t even notice when things changed.


Of course, since we’re only talking about the far flung future of 2009, I don’t suppose there was that many changes to begin with. I mean, sure they have the technology to kidnap somebody utilizing time travel, but they still have to use fax machines. And yes, everybody drives around in cute Skittle-colored tanks, but they haven’t quite got around to inventing palm sized cell phones or the Internet yet. And despite the fact that they can transfer a person’s soul into a computer (wait for it), people are still having to eat river rats to survive. What, you mean you’ve never had homemade rat jerky before?

Fine, if you’d prefer to avoid that dubious pleasure, then I suppose it’s a good thing not everybody in the future is required to be rundown, diseased, and living off vermin. All you have to do to avoid munching on mice is to be rich. Yes, as is often the case even today, the wealthy in the future get to eat well and maintain a healthy appearance. They get to wear clean clothes and live in spacious apartments within pristine towers. And when they start to near death, they can pay to have their “souls” stored in digital format until it’s able to be transferred into the body of someone who was kidnapped from the past at the moment of their own death. Oh wait, you mean the rich can’t do that yet? Well, don’t worry, they’re working on it.


An article in The Daily Mail notes that Ray Kurzweil, author, inventor, and director of engineering at Google, recently made the claim that in less than 40 years, humans actually will have the means to upload their entire minds to computers and effectively become digitally immortal. “We're going to become increasingly non-biological to the point where the non-biological part dominates and the biological part is not important any more.” Kurzwell predicts. Still, he believes humans won’t be willing to give up on corporal existence so quickly. “We do need a body.” he postulates, “Our intelligence is directed towards a body, but it doesn't have to be this frail, biological body that is subject to all kinds of failure modes… So we'll be routinely able to change our bodies very quickly as well as our environments. If we had radical life extension only, we would get profoundly bored and we would run out of thing to do and new ideas.” In other words, Kurzwell thinks that within a couple of generations, at least part of the future predicted in Freejack will come to pass. The primary difference is that in Kurzwell’s digital utopia, rather than using a spiritual switchboard to hop inside Emilio Estevez, we’ll be jumping in and out of various robotic containers instead. 

But just what is it exactly that we would be transferring back and forth? In Freejack they use the term ‘souls’, but Kurzwell refers instead to the ‘mind’. Are these terms interchangeable? The shotgun wielding, crotch kicking, potty mouthed nun Alex Furlong meets in the future sure thinks it’s the latter, claiming that what Vacendak and his bosses are up to is anything but spiritual. And as far as the Church is concerned, she would be right, because the mind and the soul are not the same thing in Christian philosophy. While it would probably take no more than five seconds on the Internet to find a different definition, the ‘mind’ is usually regarded by scientists these days as that informational part of the human thought process which can be separated from the bio-physical components of the brain. If that’s too technical (it was for me), Psychologist Gregg Henriques suggests thinking of a novel as an analogy, with the physical book representing the organic brain and the story it communicates as the non-physical mind.


In contrast, the old 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia explains, “The soul may be defined as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. The term ‘mind’ usually denotes this principle as the subject of our conscious states, while ‘soul’ denotes the source of our vegetative activities as well… [so] if we define the soul as the principle within me, by which I feel, think, will, and by which my body is animated, we may provide a definition of mind of fairly wide acceptance by merely omitting the last clause.” In short, the mind is only a faculty of the soul, not the whole shebang. That’s why the Church has such an interest in things like the Terry Schiavo case from a few years back, because even if the mind is not functioning (as far as we can measure), the soul, the animating principle, is still present for as long as life remains in the body. The other catch is that the Church believes, as the glossary at the back of the U.S. Version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, that the “soul and body together form one unique human nature. Each human soul is individual and immortal, immediately created by God. The soul does not die with the body, from which it is separated by death, and with which it will be reunited in the final resurrection.” Basically, the body and soul are a package deal, one unique set for each person, no trade-ins allowed.

Now if I’m interpreting all of this correctly (you should always check my math before relying on my conclusions), this has some interesting ramifications for the events depicted in Freejack. Based on how the characters describe the spiritual switchboard process, the implication is that McCandless’ mind will be moved into Alex’s body, thereby turning Alex into McCandless. But according to Catholic teaching, that’s not really what would occur because Alex’s soul, that which animates his body, would still be present. So, if Alex’s soul and Alex’s body are both still there after the mind transfer, then it’s still Alex, just with a bunch of false mental data gumming up the works. A technicality, perhaps, since the Alex his friends and loved ones knew probably wouldn’t act or think the same after the process, but an important technicality still. And even if the process did somehow involve the transference of souls, the result still wouldn’t be a new McCandless because Alex’s body would still have been uniquely created for Alex. At best (or worst, as the case may be), the result would be akin to a demonic possession, with McCandless’ soul cohabiting Alex’s body and exerting its will over that of its host.


But so what, right? After all, aren’t we just talking about a silly science fiction movie? Maybe, but folks like Kurzwell think there might be some fact mixed in there as well, and this presents some important ethical considerations for our real world future. If Kurzwell turns out to be correct and scientists somehow develop a process that allows them to make a digital copy of a person’s mind and download it into a synthetic container, just what the heck is it that they are creating? It won’t be a person, because it won’t have a soul, just a mind. Or to put it another way, it may walk and talk and act like your Aunt Gertie, but it won’t be your Aunt Gertie. Her soul would have moved on with the death of the organic body that was hers and hers alone.

Call me old fashioned, but I think that’s something which should be taken into consideration when you’re going around promising people the “immortality” of mind transference, because it won’t really be them continuing on at all, just some soulless simulation. Of course, none of this will matter to those who don’t believe in the existence of a soul to begin with, but it’s the truth, and we have an obligation to state the truth even when nobody will listen. "You don't need a new body, you need a new soul” claims Alex Furlong as they strap him to the spiritual switchboard, “and your machine can't give you that!” I wonder if he knew just how right he was.



After Freejack crashed at the box office, you’d think Hollywood would have learned its lessons about mixing mind trips, music stars, and models. But no, just a few later the world was treated to Johnny Mnemonic featuring Ice-T, Henry Rollins, and Dina Meyer. It bombed too. Do we really want the minds of these kinds of decision makers sticking around for eternity?


Xena Catolica said...

The trouble with this movie is that it was badly miscast. I thought Mick Jagger actually did pretty well (and his enunciation coach must have had a great time)& if you try to picture, say, Jeff Goldblum in his role it isn't much of an improvement. And Anthony Hopkins is as cool as always, 'though Gary Oldman would have been good, too. But the central couple had zero chemistry. Zero. Almost anyone in the lead role would have been better--didn't Harrison Ford need work just then? Grrr.

You're right, mind transference would make a whole hash of things. "When he died and the resurrection comes, whose body will it be?" I can hear some Pharisee ask.

EegahInc said...

I think they really wanted Total Recall 2 and tried to make Estevez act like a younger version of Arnold. It didn't work. Speaking of which, Michael Ironside in the Mick Jagger role would have been great.

Enbrethiliel said...


I watched the movie just so I could read this review--and realised at the climax that I had seen it before! It turns out that the scenes with the personal ID number and the old-fashioned car remained memorable even if the rest of the story faded from memory.

A lot of Estevez's acting made me cringe. I agree with Xena that he and Rene Russo didn't have much chemistry, but the worst part was when he was trying to be Anthony Hopkins. For one thing, I really don't buy that McCandless would have said that to Julie; for another, Estevez's delivery was simply bad. Of course, we can say that Alex is the bad actor but that everyone still bought it because they had seen transfers before and thought they were just deaing with cognitive dissonance (the McCandless employees) or hadn't and were shellshocked (Julie). Still, it didn't go down smoothly at all.

On the other hand, I was surprised at how much I liked Jagger. He was good in this one, and I really felt that Vacendak meant it when he called Alex his friend. (Awwww!)

EegahInc said...

Yep, this movie pretty much slammed the breaks on Estevez's career, consigning him to the Mighty Duck's franchise for the better part of a decade.

There's a pretty good MTV interview on YouTube where Jagger discusses this movie and his acting in general. He pretty laughs in Kurt Loder's face when asked if he would consider doing Shakespeare. He knew his limits and didn't try to overreach.