eXistenZ Reviewby "Sean P. Molloy" (spmolloy AT todhf DOT com)
February 4th, 2000
eXistenZ (**** out of ****)
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm
Directed By David Cronenberg
Mirimax/Dimension Films, Rated R, 1999
Running Time: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
Part One of "The Strangest Movies Ever Made" Series at www.mediajunkies.com
by Scott Watson
[LIGHT SPOILERS, nothing you shouldn't read]
eXistenZ has been called "a gooey Matrix", and while this is a correct description in some ways, in others it is completely off. The only thing the two films have in common is the idea of a virtual reality that is indistinguishable from normal, "real" reality. A major difference is that "The Matrix" has a base reality that is obviously the true reality, while eXistenZ does the impossible and makes us accept the most bizarre reality ever as true. And oh what a reality it is. David Cronenberg has shown us before that he knows how to create strange movies (Naked Lunch, Crash), but this one is one of the strangest. Maybe it's because of how the mundane is mixed with the bizarre. Technology is organic, but only some of it. Cars are normal. Gas stations are the same. Cell phones are glowing bug like appendages. You jack into a virtual reality game using a quivering pink gooey animal like apparatus (referred to simply as a "pod"). High technology has been replaced with organic creatures, and it provides a truly surreal setting for the characters.
A famous game designer, Allegra Geller (a fine looking Jennifer Jason Leigh), flees a demonstration of her latest game, eXistenZ, after an assassination attempt. She is on the run (from who, I'm still not sure), and has to save her pod by playing her game with "someone friendly". That someone friendly is her dubious companion and security guard, Ted Pikul (Jude Law). Unfortunately he is lacking a fundamental requirement for playing, a bioport. Sort of a hole in your spine (ok, exactly like a hole in your spine), a bioport allows you to plug the vaguely entrail-looking wires from the pod into you, allowing you to play the game. Luckily a bioport can be installed easily (they install them in malls), so off they go to get one. After a crazy series of events at the local country gas station, they are able to plug in and play eXistenZ.
The plot itself is a surreal melding of conspiracies, reality distortion, Chinese restaurants, and multi appendaged amphibian things ("It's a sign of the times"). But the plot, while cohesive in it's own creepy way is secondary to just trying to figure out what the hell is going on in this universe. Cronenberg just slaps this weird organic-tech world into the viewers lap, and it's up to you to figure out how all these things work. And that's the true joy of this film, entering the vaguely nightmarish world in which eXistenZ takes place. You learn a little bit piece by piece (oh, they make pods out of those), and it's just enough to get you to accept the world that is presented to you.
There are all kinds of twists and turns as the characters wander around, including a fantastic scene in a Chinese restaurant that will leave you trying to assemble something out of your Moo Goo Gai Pan for months afterwards. Also the bioports are occasionally used for things other than porting into eXistenZ , the specifics of which I will leave for you to discover. There's lots of little things that set off the weird-o-meter, like the little tiny pods that you can buy in the video game store, the two headed amphibian creature, and why that guy at the gas station's name appears to be "Gas". It all adds up to a supremely far out trip, and given the choice I think I would rather live in The Matrix's virtual world... oh wait, I already do.
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