eXistenZ Review

by Akiva Gottlieb (akiva AT excite DOT com)
April 29th, 1999

eXistenZ ***1/2

rated R
starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, Don McKellar, Callum Keith
Rennie, Sarah Polley, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe written and directed by David Cronenberg

I find it a bit ironic that while THE MATRIX is racking in huge numbers at the box office, David Cronenberg's similar, astonishing EXISTENZ can't even crack the top 10. But even if EXISTENZ disappears into obscurity, it is not a film that I will easily forget.

To give away too much of EXISTENZ' plot would be a sin, but I will provide for you the initial setup. Jennifer Jason Leigh makes her big screen return, after a 2-year hiatus(does anyone remember A THOUSAND ACRES? I didn't think so), as Allegra Geller, who, sometime in the near future, is the world's most distinguished virtual reality game designer. A group of people have been gathered into a room to test her newest adventure, called eXistenZ. The meeting turns into chaos, and Allegra is forced to flee with her bodyguard(Jude Law).

The game of eXistenZ is not the normal virtual reality game that you would find in stores today. In eXistenZ, you are living the game, and at times your mind begins to lose grasp on the difference between the game and reality. THE MATRIX made a similar point in a more complicated way, that sometimes the lines of reality are blurred. EXISTENZ ends up playing like an indie version of THE MATRIX that spends more time on smarts than on violence.

While EXISTENZ is not as showy as THE MATRIX, its ending is much more thought-provoking. 1999 is turning out to be the year that sci/fi makes its big return. I am definitely not a sci/fi buff, but with EXISTENZ and THE MATRIX being released even before the new STAR WARS, this year looks to be the year of science-fiction.

EXISTENZ not only marks the return of Jennifer Jason Leigh, but it is also the first film that David Cronenberg has made since 1996's erotic car crash thriller(?) CRASH. The Canadian filmmaker is known for his unique visual sense, and his ability to create new worlds. EXISTENZ is one of his very best films. Also, Ian Holm and Sarah Polley(both of THE SWEET HEREAFTER) have small roles, proving that when you put those two in a movie together, good things happen. EXISTENZ is not a perfect film, but it will be remembered by me as one of the year's best.
a review by Akiva Gottlieb, The Teenage Movie Critic
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