Growing up, I was a huge fan of the Short Circuit films. I watched them all the time on VHS and loved seeing again and again the antics of Johnny 5. And while I loved very much the original film that had the hilarity that is Steve Guttenberg and the charm of Ally Sheedy, I always related more to the second film Short Circuit 2. I recently rewatched the film and it still holds up for me.
The second film centers around Johnny 5 and Ben Javari (played by Fisher Stevens). They are the only two characters to return from the first film (though Sheedy’s character Stephanie Speck makes an audio cameo). Ben also has a character change (in the first film he’s an American citizen but in this film he is trying to get his citizenship). He’s now in New York City trying to make his way in the world after losing his job at NOVA. He builds toy replicas of Johnny 5 which gets the attention of toy buyer Sandy Banatoni. She loves them and wants a bunch for the department store to sell. This brings Johnny 5 to NYC to help out his friend Ben.
Along with trying to help Ben (and Ben’s new ‘friend’ Fred Ritter), Johnny 5 is about his usual getting of “input”. This of course leads to some interesting encounters in the city. These encounters lead to Johnny 5 struggling to find out what it means to be accepted as alive by those around him. This also mirrors Ben’s attempts to have Sandy see him as a person and not just a producer of robot toys.
Probably the scene that really reflects this for me the most is set up by the following: Johnny 5 is on his own after trying to be sold by Fred. He spends time in a sculpture garden and is mistaken for art and called “repulsive”. He then grabs some clothes (trenchcoat and beanie hat) in order to fit in with He goes into a church looking for answers and gets run out by priest thinking someone is controlling him. He then gets arrested for “trashing the book store” with the officers thinking someone is controlling him. When he gets to the police station, he is sent down to stolen goods because jail is for “humans”.
The scene finds Johnny standing in the impound area chained to two poles. He is reading one of the two books he got from the bookstore. There is a kind of melancholic music playing as he’s slowly reading (the only time he ever reads slowly by the way). Ben finds out that he’s there in the impound and goes to pick him up. Ben rushes up to and asks Johnny to say something. Johnny’s response is four words “Hubcaps, corn dogs, soul.”
After scolding the officers for chaining Johnny up like they did, Ben tells him it’s okay to break the chains which Johnny promptly does. Ben asks Johnny why he’s dressed up that “ridiculous garb”, Johnny responds as he slowly rolls away “Attempt to look human, fit in, belong. Unsuccessful.” Ben is left standing there with Johnny’s beanie hat and two books. The two books? Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. Ben looks up from seeing the two books as Johnny is rolling to the door.
I could relate to how Johnny 5 felt. No, I wasn’t a robot come to life. But i understood what it felt like to want to fit in and belong. Growing up, I wasn’t very popular. I didn’t fit in with the cool crowd. I grew up in one town and went to school in another. I was the younger brother who was kinda nerdy. I wanted to belong. I wanted to feel like that I fit in but I didn’t. So when I would watch this film, that scene always got to me, because I knew what that feeling was like. To want to be seen, to want to be known, to want to belong.
Deep down that’s what we all want. And that’s why even to this day, that scene still gets to me. Because that pain is real. That is something that we all struggle with all through our lives. God knows this. He made each one of us to be in community with Him and with others. We were never meant to be alone, in isolation. Sin separates us from others and sin separates us from God. But the good thing is Jesus restore those relationships paying the penalty for our sins. We don’t have to feel in solitude or alone. We belong to God if we are willing to repent and turn to Him.
Short Circuit 2 will always have a special place in my heart as a film. Not just for the goofy lovable Ben Javari and wise cracking hero Johnny 5, but for the broken hearted Ben who longs to be known by Sandy and the lonely Johnny 5 who simply wants to belong and fit in. In the end, Ben and Sandy are together and in love and Johnny 5 finds out he does belong and has people that do care for him. May we find that place and those people (and hopefully it is found with God and with the church).