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“I think we’re living in a world that in fifty years we’re not going to recognize, because now we produce real objects. But with augmented reality… we’re going to transform the world.” -Miguel Llansó
DIRECTED BY: Miguel Llansó
FEATURING: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe, Lauri Lagle
PLOT: Agents D.T. Gagano and Palmer Eldritch must enter the CIA-created alternate reality, “PsychoBook”, in order to investigate a sentient computer virus, Soviet Union. Abandoned within the virtual reality, Gagano finds himself in _Beta Ethiopia, where strongman/president/superhero-villain BatFro conspires with Soviet Union to distribute a VR byproduct known as “the substance.” Gagano’s reality-side fiancée, who hopes to open a kick-boxing academy, must now live with the prospect of him being trapped in a portable television display.
- An Estonian computer museum provided inspiration for the hardware aethestic in Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, but the machines on screen were mostly Apple products from the early 1990s.
- Solomon Tashe, who plays the African strongman dictator “Batfro,” , is a much-loved Ethiopian media personality.
- The unusual name “Mister Sophistication” was lifted from John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. However, like other characters in Llansó’s films, he was based on a regular at the Club Juventus, a gathering spot in Addis Ababa for Italian ex-pats and other larger-than-life clientèle.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Take your pick. Perhaps it’s stop-motion Richard Pryor and Robert Redford investigating a house infiltrated by a computer virus assassin. Perhaps it’s the “Jiminy Cricket” CIA AI spouting knee-high advice to Agents Gagano and Eldritch. And perhaps it’s the melodramatic conversation between a super-sweetie BBW kick-boxer and her television-bound lover. For the record, however, the official “Indelible Image” is cross-dressing super-spy, Captain Lagucci, sprinting off a roof to save a portable television. Much like Miguel Llansó, Lagucci just… runs with it.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Coked-up Batfro to the rescue!; CIA Man trapped in a TV
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Llansó manages to make an “anything and everything” approach to imagery, symbolism, dialogue, and scenario gel into a unified whole. Obviously the plot for JSYtWttH is bonkers, and that’d be enough, but its mountain of antiquated tech, dizzying opening credits, vibrant colors, bug aliens, MIT conspiracizing, Cold War derring-do, and… You get the picture; just about everything in this movie makes it weird.
Trailer for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway
COMMENTS: “Loading. Please wait.” Not a typical beginning for a Cold War spy thriller. But it would be a grievous understatement to suggest that Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is in any way typical. Its elements are run-of-the-mill: Soviet Union chicanery, CIA machinations, high-tech meets big action. But the narrative is coated with something as gooey and unexplained as the Jello-style psychotropic referenced throughout, sinking into and metastasizing the thematic chunks that Miguel Llansó blends together in his sophomore feature film.
You are now entering Psychobook, an alternate reality platform forged by the CIA. Agents D.T. Gagano (Llansó regular Daniel Tadesse) and Lieutenant Palmer Eldritch (on loan, presumably, from Philip K. Dick) jack into the system on a mission of pest control. Their routine assignment is thrown sideways by the appearance of “Soviet Union,” a computer virus that has achieved sentience and wishes to infiltrate and conquer the physical world. This was to be Gagano’s last mission—he and his girlfriend are on the cusp of opening a kick-boxing academy—but he becomes Soviet Union’s hostage, trapped in _Beta Ethiopia, a domain under President Batfro’s despotic rule. The fabulously flamboyant Captain Lagucci lurks on the periphery; Mr. Sophistication seeks the Ark of the Covenant; and Roy Mascarone may or may not be the Messiah.
The layman might describe Llansó frenetic nonsense as “stilted,” but its goings-on are better described as “incongruous.” Llansó purposefully takes every opportunity to distance the viewer from the action. The opening action set piece is filmed entirely in stop-motion, with live actor-avatars sporting masks of Robert Redford, Joseph Stalin, and Richard Pryor, among others. Screens within screens (within a further screen, if you count your television display) create a tunnel of perception as you watch someone watching. Stock footage of a submarine interrupts the action to reinforce the Cold War tone, both with its imagery and change of film quality. To sever any remaining links, Llansó dubs the whole thing over after filming.
The plot provided is merely a broad-stroke distillation; and “distillation” is the key here. Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is a distillation of the writer/director’s formative years. It draws on the AI and VR explorations of War Games, “Max Headroom,” and Lawnmower Man, and is in many ways a gloriously silly riff on The Matrix. Many scenes feel dressed as if a computer museum exploded around the actors. Soviet Union (the character, not the confederation of socialist states) is a walking, talking fusion of capitalism and communism, with his prominently branded Nike shoes on foot and ubiquitous hammer and sickle in hand. The boxy garishness of thirty-year-old technology is a snarky facsimile of capitalistic supremacy; the derelict factories and warehouses are a reminder of a “socialist paradise” gone to seed.
The mash-up of film genres mimics this collision of sociopolitical motifs. Deeply idiotic snatches of dialogue (“I’m not dead, sir, I’m trapped in a portable television”) are delivered with a gravitas worthy of a high-minded drama. And that pseudo-seriousness itself clashes wonderfully with non-sequiturs like, “Until a few minutes ago, I thought I was Jesus Christ.” And Llansó combines these soap opera-y and spy-y exchanges with regular pops of camp, be it with Captain Lagucci whenever she appears on screen, or Eldritch Palmer’s despairing, “Fuck you, Stalin!” For good measure, he even references his own oeuvre in one of the most oblique nods to Adolph Hitler imaginable.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway could not have been made in the late ’80s; it’s just far too silly. It also couldn’t have been made without the late ’80s. Llansó’s programmed a big, heaping pile of spaghetti coded computer adventure. After loading up the file, the user can sit back and enjoy a stupefying adventure surrounding a smirking critique of the interweaving of the physical world with the computer world. The director targets a number of contemporary issues: the disintegration of the individual; the dangers of centralized state power; and the fragility of reality. Just as likely, he thought of a punchline and worked backwards. Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is a promise to the viewer, and anyone walking away from this film saying it wasn’t what they expected simply wasn’t paying attention.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Billed as ‘a WTF thriller,’ it will duly produce that flummoxed exclamation from unprepared viewers. But those with a simpatico arcane pop-cultural taste for giddy absurdism will find Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway as delightfully nonsensical as its inspired title.” –Dennis Harvey, Variety (contemporaneous)
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway – Official Face
Psychobook page for the film
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Miguel Llansó Official Home Page – On it you can find links to his various social media accounts, production updates, a few shorts, and contact information
366’s Fantasia Interview with the Director – Audio from our sit-down interview with Miguel
Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway Q&A Livestream – Archive of the Zoom Q&A with Llansó and producer Sergio Uguet de Resayre
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway – Kickstarter page for the feature
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway – 10 minute Megaloop Trailer HD – Promotional “trailer” from Arrow films (warning: contains strobing)
LIST CANDIDATE: JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY – This site’s original candidate review of the film
HOME VIDEO INFO: In days of yore, something as unconventional as Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway would have disappeared into the ether. However, as cult and genre film enthusiasts have not only grown in number but started coming into power, Llansó’s vision is available on a beautiful 2-disc Blu-ray release from Arrow Video (buy), featuring the now-standard Cadillac treatment of high-resolution video, sharp sound, and a bucket of extras—including his first feature-length film, Crumbs, in its entirety!
For those of you who are curious but don’t care to commit to ownership, it is currently available on-demand (rent or buy).