Published Sep 01, 2001
With "Cyberman," documentary maker Peter Lynch completes a de facto trilogy of Canadian quixotics begun with "Project Grizzly" and continued with "The Herd." The comparisons with "Project Grizzly" are irresistible, too: Troy Hurtubise trying to build a suit of armour that is equal parts space-age materials and Red Green in order to get closer to a fearsome mystery of nature; and Steve Mann arming himself with high-tech gadgetry to keep the contemporary technopolis at bay. A professor at the University of Toronto, Mann is a widely hailed pioneer of wearable computers, seeing the world through a computerised lens with a web browser serving as his viewfinder. Like most quixotics, Mann's hallmark is a single-minded earnestness that seems genuinely baffled at being taken for eccentricity, or to be less charitable, out and out looniness.
For all the technology supplementing his eyes, there's something a little myopic about Mann, who can't see himself the way others do. He really seems to believe that wearing ten pounds of circuitry and switching boxes on his head is practical and unobtrusive, but Lynch casts a sympathetic eye, as does proto-cyberpunk William Gibson, who plays the role of Mann's interlocutor through much of the film.
One of Lynch's great abilities as a filmmaker is to let his subjects tell their stories and to glimpse the world through their eyes, as much as possible, and Lynch does this literally throughout the film, letting the view from Mann's prosthetic eyeballs stand in for his own camera lens. This is in keeping with one of Mann's dreams - that everyone, friends, relatives and total strangers alike, should be able to live his life, hermetic though it may be in some ways, along with him. That's seems a slightly daffy ambition, but there's a real cogency to his Mann's social critique: that we need to filter out the myriad information messages (read: marketing) that bombard us daily, and that we need to be able to turn the eye of high-tech surveillance (bet you thought those were merely decorative ceiling fixtures at the Second Cup) back on itself. He's no less than a populist technology vigilante, although, innocent to the end, the irony that the solution to the incursions on our personal sovereignty made by technology are answerable only by more technology seems lost on him.