Release Date: April 23, 1999
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude
Law, Ian Holm, Don McKellar,
Sarah Polley, Christopher
Eccleston, & Willem Dafoe
Runtime: 100 minutes
Distributor: Dimension Films Release
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Robert Lantos, Andras Hamori &
Writer: David Cronenberg
Address Comments To:
One game, eXistenZ, is first introduced to a focus group, in what looks like an old church building, by its creator Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She explains its components including the MetaFlesh Game-Pod, a game module resembling a living kidney, created out of biological material from amphibian eggs stuffed with synthetic DNA. An umbilical-like cord, UmbyCord, connects the game-pod to a human. The UmbyCord plugs into a Bioport, a small hole at the base of the spine which accesses the body's central nervous system. All players hooked up to the Game-Pod can participate in a virtual scenario. Once inside the virtual world, players interact and have to play a game to find out its objective.
At the focus group, a would-be player attempts to assassinate Allegra with a gun made out of biological material. She is forced to flee. Joining her is her sole alley, Ted Pikul (Jude Law), a novice security guard who is sworn to protect her. Persuading Ted to play the game, he receives a BioPort for the first time, and joins her in a virtual world, where she discovers themes of disease in the game system and continued threats on her life. Only at the end do we discover what is a game and what isn't; who is the real villain and who are merely players.
This is a movie which seems to cater specially to those who already are expert virtual reality game players. The techno-speak seems tailor-made to excite both science fiction fans and virtual game fans. While introducing the possibility of virtual reality games, it criticizes the confusion, alienation and identity-removing aspects of compulsive gaming. For that it is commendable. It also suggests that those who partake in games, where murder is an objective and practiced frequently, can be desensitized to violence in real life. Indeed, in the end of the movie, frequent gamers commit actual murder.
This movie is not for the squeamish. The biomaterial is squishy, bloody and very stomach churning. It seems like constant dissection takes place with mutant organic material, which has lost all sense of identity and shape. The concept of individual God-created species has broken down. In fact, many fictitious amphibious and reptilian species dot the landscape, as a result of supposed genetic manipulation. This raises the question of divine right to create life, an idea not well-liked among some game players.
Ultimately, the assassin game players are angry with the game creator for stealing their individuality and identity. Hence, EXISTENZ merely becomes an updated FRANKENSTEIN movie. But, its obscurity, dark shadows, techno-speak, and other jargon makes it unattractive to the casual science fiction goer, who is waiting for THE PHANTOM MENACE. EXISTENZ therefore seems a little hypocritical, inviting the sci-fi gamer into the movie's game world, but rebuking him at the same time.