eXistenZ Reviewby "Alex Ioshpe" (ioshpe AT online DOT no)
January 30th, 2000
Written and Directed by David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg presents us with another strange tale crawling out of his impressively twisted head. It is one of many science fiction films, released during the last year of this millenium, that tackles issues that will play an important role in our future.
The story unfolds in a near future, where the line between reality and virtual reality blurs. The world of the future is an unfriendly place, where the scared inhabitants are "hiding" in virtual reality fantasy games to escape the uncertainty of the real world. Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the leading game designer in the world, is testing her new virtual reality game, eXistenZ with a focus group. As they begin, she is attacked by a fanatic assassin employing a bizarre organic gun. She flees with a young marketing trainee, Ted Pikul (Jude Law), who is suddenly assigned as her bodyguard. Unfortunately, her pod, an organic gaming device that contains the only copy of the eXistenZ game program, is damaged. To inspect it, she talks Ted into accepting a gameport in his own body so he can play the game with her. The events leading up to this, and the resulting game lead the pair on a strange adventure in a world where individuality doesn't exist, as the "players" are forced to perform as characters in an unknown plot. Here the reality and their actions are impossible to determine from either their own or the game's perspective.
I don't intend to reveal more of the film's premise, which is structured as a computer game, with "tasks" that the characters must complete to win the game.
Released after "The Matrix" and "Dark City", "eXistenZ" has some similarities and parallels that connect it to these films. However, "eXistenZ" is moving in a different direction, with a premise of its own. A combination of dazzling special effects, brilliantly coordinated action sequences and an intelligent and sophisticated plot, made "The Matrix" a rare and entertaining science fiction experience, with some dark and frightening ideas hidden under its sparkling facade. "eXistenZ" has a completely different atmosphere, resembling "Dark City" , which is darker, more serious and less entertaining. "eXistenZ" has the opportunities and potential, but the enormous possibilities are never quite explored.
After the engaging beginning, it starts to falter. While I was watching the film, many left the theatre during the first hour. And indeed, "eXistenZ" seemed as a complete failure: the actors seemed unreal, the plot and dialogue silly, unfinished relationships and unexplained events followed one after another. But the last fifteen minutes lifted the film on a complete different level, explaining all past events, the silly dialogue and the unreal performances within a few scenes. And jet the film fails on several issues. Probably the best written character in the story is a game designer, who would rather spend the rest of her life in a virtual world, than face real life. This is a great possibility to create a magnificent character, and Jennifer Jason Leigh stretches Cronenberg's script to the limits, but fails because the advantages of virtual reality in comparison to the real world are never shown. eXistenZ is not a world of which you might dream about in your fantasies. It is not a world worth sacrificing your life for. It's a cold, dark place where the "players" are forced to interrelate with unreal characters, eat mutated creatures and even murder against their own will. It doesn't look like a place worth even thinking about. David Cronenberg has been the creator of "The Fly", "Videodrome" and "The Dead Zone" , so it's not so hard to guess that "eXistenZ" is a violent and gory film. Besides the regular murders of innocent people, the audiences can enjoy an autopsy of a two-headed mutated amfibium. Scenes like that have become a trademark for Cronenberg and it seems that he can't make a film without flowing blood and foul creatures. The way I see it, this is the film's crucial failure. It is impossible for Cronenbergto create a beautiful world where time, space and problems of our everyday life do not exist; a place of blooming blossoms, green forests and clear waters; a place really worth sacrificing your life for. Because of its lack of three dimensionality, the film looses most of its possibilities, but stays afloat because of some interesting scenes, amusing performances (especially by Willem Dafoe ) and one interesting and important thought, depicted in many different ways throughout the movie. During the film, the audience is as confused as the characters: detached from their everyday existence and no longer able to see the difference between the real world and the alternative reality that they have created.
"The Matrix", despite of its many dark and disturbing thoughts, ends with a light at the end of the tunnel. "eXistenZ" does not. It is a one time experience, ending in blood, gore and madness - a rather frightening forecast for tomorrow.
Review by Alex Ioshpe (C) 1999
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