eXistenZSynopsis: Where Does Reality Stop… and The Game Begin?

Exciting stars Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dolores Claiborne), Jude Law (Gattaca) and Willem Dafoe (Speed 2, Affliction) challenge the boundaries of reality in this futuristic, critically acclaimed adventure thriller! During the first closed-door demonstration of an amazing new virtual reality game – called eXistenZ – the system’s brilliant designer, Allegra Geller (Leigh), is violently attacked by a crazed assassin intent on killing her and destroying her creation! Forced to flee into hiding, Allegra enlists a young assistant (Law) to help her in testing the damaged system…by convincing him to join her inside eXistenZ! The action then explodes as their world’s real-life dangers begin to merge with the fantasy of the game! If you’re ready to play, it’s now your turn to plug into this powerfully entertaining hit!


eXistenZ 7.0

eyelights: its exploration of reality.
eyesores: its deeply creepy, unsettling vibe.

“I’m not sure… I’m not sure here, where we are, is real at all. This feels like a game to me. And you, you’re beginning to feel a bit like a game character.”

‘eXistenZ’ is a 1999 motion picture by David Cronenberg that explores our relationship with reality – in this case, through the interactions we have with video games. It takes us to a future where virtual reality has been developed to such a degree that people can just plug themselves in via a bioport at the base of their spines and explore a virtual world with other people.

The picture, which is apparently influenced by Philip K. Dick’s “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” takes us to a trial run of a new game by designer Allegra Geller, which has approximately a dozen people connected together via living fleshpods and linked together by a sort of umbilical cord. Within moments of starting the download, however, an assassin shoots her.

From that point onward, Allegra (who is played perfectly by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is on the run with a mere a company PR guy as her protection. Fearing for her pod, which contains the only version of her new game, she decides to connect into it with the PR guy, who finds himself sucked into this virtual reality with her. They soon realize that the assassins are everywhere.

‘eXistenZ’ is a mindbender, taking us to many different levels of virtual reality, with subtle clues allowing us to know which level we’re in and what is reality and what is fiction. It’s also a deeply unsettling picture that is overshadowed by the creep factor of the weirdo biopods, which squirm and make squishy sounds when used, leaving the audience with a strange aftertaste.

(And let’s not go into the other oddball technology, like the glowing fleshy phones and the fishbone gun with teeth for bullets! Too weird!)

I still remember seeing it on DVD soon after it came out and feeling a bit weirded out by it. I didn’t hate it, but it was hard to be enamoured with it. Having said this, I think I actually have enjoyed it more this time, because I was better able to keep on top of what was reality and what wasn’t – whereas the first time I believe I was suffering from sleeplessness and simply couldn’t.

One thing that I appreciated this time was how poorly some of the staging and effects were put together, specifically to show what was real and what wasn’t – clearly the eXistenZ game programmers weren’t necessarily good directors. I think that this was brilliant, even though it’s not initially clear that this is what’s happening – which leaves the audience thinking Cronenberg is slipping.

He isn’t, actually. Tout au contraire. But one just has to get past those perceived weaknesses.

Actually, although he’s not at the top of his game here, he’s still masterful. And up to his same old tricks, in his mixing of strange technology and sexuality, which he does by having Jennifer Jason Lee wetting and fingering her partner’s bioport, or moistening the connector in her mouth, and him tonguing her own bioport. Naturally, they get all hot over it and make out passionately.

I wasn’t sure if I should be turned on or grossed out. Or both.

But I appreciated how the picture questions reality and forces us to confront the impact that technology has on our perception of reality. The PR guy (played brilliantly by Jude Law) starts to lose sight of what’s real and what’s not, having been traveling through different game layers for the first time in his life. Suddenly, he no longer feels as though his life is real anymore; he gets confused.

When you think about it, as we blur the lines between the so-called real world and the virtual worlds that we create for ourselves, it becomes harder to define what reality is; for many, these fake worlds are as real, if not more so, than the “real” world. Perhaps reality is all about how invested we are in it. But how does that affect the way we cohabit with others, if we’re all in different realities?

It’s not easy, but it’s more important than ever to ask these questions, as the lines blurs more and more.

In a way, ‘eXistenZ’ made me think of ‘Inception‘, but without the box office ambitions of the Christopher Nolan hit. Cronenberg goes to darker places than Nolan, digging into the human psyche not so much for wonderment but to question, if not warn. Although ‘Inception’ is more accessible and more enjoyable, in some ways I respect ‘eXistenZ’ more because it’s not just a ride – it tackles real-world questions.

As with ‘Inception’, ‘eXistenZ’ also has its secrets, which I won’t divulge here. But it reveals them subtly, taking its sweet time to set the stage, waiting until the 42-minute mark before even plugging its main characters into the game. But when it goes for it, it goes for broke. No one could watch ‘eXistenZ’ and be indifferent about it; some will be fascinated, whereas other will be repulsed.

But all will come out challenged in ways they’ve never been challenged before.

Date of viewing: April 28, 2015

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