eXistenZ Review

by Jerry Saravia (faust667 AT aol DOT com)
June 8th, 1999

eXistenZ - a film review by Jerry Saravia

Virtual reality is a concept that is beginning to lose its luster partly because no one seems to have the imagination or the stamina to explore it. After enduring endless ordeals like "Lawnmower Man" and "The Matrix," one can savor the lurid, fascinating, uneven "eXistenZ," the latest from the twisted mind of David Cronenberg, who helmed mind and body experiments like "Crash," "Videodrome" and "The Naked Lunch."

"eXistenZ" stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as Allegra, a twisted, sexy computer designer whose latest creation is a game called eXistenZ, a virtual reality game where a bio-port is connected to the spine, and resembles a fleshy game pod made of amphibious organs and brain matter. The game begins, but this is not a world of razzle-dazzle computer pyrotechnics or laser beams or kung-fu fights. Instead, you experience a world where trout farms exist, guns made of chicken bones and fire human teeth, people walk and act like zombies, and Chinese waiters serve you two-headed amphibians. To make matters worse, Allegra enters her own game with a seemingly incompetent market trainee (Jude Law), who has not been accommodated with a bio-port.

"eXistenZ" never makes clear when it is a game or when we are seeing reality, although I am sure that in our reality, two-headed amphibians who seemed to have wandered in from Jurassic Park are non-existent. Nevertheless, Cronenberg's idea is to show that a faux reality may not be far from our own - our feelings and emotions dictate our fantasies, and some are more dangerous than others. If only he pushed further with this concept as Wim Wenders did with the dreamlike, humanistic "Until the End of the World," a parable about the danger of being addicted to visual images. Cronenberg wallows in grisly, fleshy details and sudden bursts of violence - the most impressive is the shooting of a Chinese waiter, which shows that the Jude Law character may be taking the concept of the game's "free will" too far.

The actors follow the command of Cronenberg's universe, and no one ever overacts even in the game. Jennifer Jason Leigh is indeed one of my favorite actresses of all time - a quixotic wonder with her expressive eyes, sexual demeanor, and wavy-like patterns in her blonde curls. She is the perfect Cronenberg heroine, and we side with her and hope she can survive her own destructive game. Jude Law reminds me of Rufus Selwell in "Dark City" - he handles his role with aplomb and subtle smirks directed towards the whole ridiculous show. I also enjoyed the tense, rat-like Ian Holm as the designer of the pods - it is a real kick to watch this actor repairing a bloody pod.
"eXistenZ" still has Cronenberg's continuing clinical obsession with flesh and bodily fluids - it affected me to watch these slimy appendages being applied to our semi-heroes in agony, as if they couldn't get enough. This is decidedly not meant for the "Matrix" action crowd. Thus, "eXistenZ" disturbs and intrigues, but it never is truly profound or provocative.

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