1999 - R - 97 Mins.
|Director: David Cronenberg
|Producer: Robert Lantos, Andraìs Haìmori, David Cronenberg
|Written By: David Cronenberg
|Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh,
|Review by: Charles Vuolo
A work of futuristic foreboding, David Cronenberg's "eXistenZ" portrays the grim side of technology. Taking place in a not-so-distant future, the most discernable change in the world is the state of videogames. No longer control pads connected to televisions, the games of "eXistenZ" are fully emmersive episodes of virtual reality.
The games themselves are held in toaster-sized "game-pods," and to experience them players insert a synthetic umbilical cord into a "port-hole" at the base of their spine. Plunged into a hyper-realistic world, gamers live out a myriad of incidents, acting both freely and by virtual compulsion. Complete stimulation however, comes with a price, and those engrossed in games lose their ability to discern reality from the artificial.
The film opens with an anti-game organization called the "Realists" attempting to assassinate Allegra Geller, renowned game designer and introvert. Failing to kill her, the assassin manages to damage her prize game pod containing her newest title, "eXistenZ." With her precious pod near death, Allegra must play her own game to evaluate its injuries. Reluctantly dragged along is her declared bodyguard Ted Pikul, competently played by Jude Law.
Far from a traditional thriller, "eXistenZ" seeks to warn rather than shock its viewers. Though released fifteen years later, the film is strikingly similar to Cronenberg's other cautionary film "Videodrome." The overarching themes of technological peril are the same, though the mediums have changed.
Cronenberg has always had a penchant for the bizarre, and "eXistenZ" is no exception. The film's guns are compromised of flesh and bone, and they spit teeth as bullets. The game-pods themselves appear to be silent pets; when they are damaged they undergo surgery, and their insides pulse with organs and fluids.
Throughout "eXistenZ" Cronenberg deftly casts doubt (within the characters and audience alike), about what is real and what is fabricated. Far from dense, the film nevertheless spirals the viewer through layer upon layer of virtual existence, until the path back is hopelessly muddled. Inner and outer hallucinatory states are a prominent theme, and the film's characters must constantly discern falsehood from truth.
Technically, the film is adequate but not distinguished. For a supposedly virtual world, "eXistenZ" is rather droll, and there is an absence of visual daring throughout the cinematography. However the overall lack of glitz does not detract from the quality of the piece, and a steadfast adherence to plot and excellent pacing ably holds the viewer's attention.
Through this film Cronenberg displays a societal consciousness rare among crafters of horror. Skirting clear of the pedantic in his pronouncements, the director infuses a substantive message into the story, namely that self-induced disillusionment and a hedonistic dependance on entertainment are humanity's primary, and most detrimental vices. By depicting a populace enraptured with the artificial world, desensitized to violence, and addicted to sensation, Cronenberg draws clear allegories to modern culture.
Overshadowed at release by "The Matrix," Cronenberg's film is nevertheless an interesting comment on humanity's perpetual ability to overdose on its own creations. "eXistenZ" is presented as a warning, not a cheap thrill, and the film ably represents Cronenberg's pronounced auteur style.