eXistenZ Review

by James Sanford (jamessanford AT earthlink DOT net)
July 4th, 1999

eXistenZ (Dimension Films)
Directed by David Cronenberg

With violent video games currently under scrutiny in light of the tragedy in Colorado, writer-director David Cronenberg's "eXistenZ" has probably taken on a timeliness its author could never have anticipated. But teetering on the cutting edge is hardly an unfamiliar position for Cronenberg, whose 1982 shocker "Videodrome" prophetically warned about the desensitization of viewers fed a steady diet of violent or pornographic films, and whose 1986 remake of "The Fly" is often read as an allegory about the AIDS crisis.
"eXistenZ," which is almost lightweight in comparison to other Cronenberg creations, spins a genuinely jolting yarn about world-famous game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose latest breakthrough is a kill-or-be-killed program that's downloaded directly into the body through a port in the base of the player's spine. Even the controllers look like flattened-out, misshapen breasts. The problem with the new technology is that it's too realistic, too convincing. Allegra and her partner (Jude Law) finally get so swept up in what's going on they can't tell if they're in the real world or the virtual world. Through some clever twists, Cronenberg eventually succeeds in making the audience feel as disoriented as Allegra, uncertain of what to believe at any given time.
Leigh, who couldn't underplay a part if she tried, envisions Allegra as a kind of electronic junkie who shivers and writhes in ecstacy as she plugs into the electronic drug she's created; to further underscore the connection, the wires that link her to the source look uncannily like umbilical cords. The rallying cry of Cronenberg's characters in "Videodrome" was "Long live the new flesh!", but almost two decades later the taut and tricky "eXistenZ" argues that sometimes progress can take us to places we might have been better off avoiding altogether. James Sanford

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