eXistenZ is a 1999 body horror-science fiction film by Canadian director David Cronenberg. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law. As in Videodrome, Cronenberg gives his psychological statement about how humans react and interact with the technologies that surround them. In this case, the world of video games. András Hámori and Róbert Lantos, the two producers of the film (who are both of Hungarian origin) said in an interview that they intentionally hid a pun in the title: "isten" is the word for "god" in Hungarian. In the near-future, organic virtual reality game consoles known as "game pods" have replaced electronic ones. The pods are attached to "bio-ports", outlets inserted at players' spines, through umbilical cords. Two game companies, Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics, compete against each other. In addition, a group of "realists" fights both companies to prevent the "deforming" of reality. Antenna Research's Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the greatest game designer in the world, is testing her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ, with a focus group at a seminar.
Well, Cronenberg is back, and after a couple of misfires like Crash, M. Butterfly, and well, pretty much the last ten years of his oeuvre, he’s got a solid flick with eXistenZ. In fact, I’d say it’s his best work since 1983′s Videodrome.
The story is straight outta modern/near-future pop culture: Using a ‘bioport,’ you can jack your body and mind into an immersive game world–a world served up by a handheld bio-engineered creature called a ‘game pod’ that is essentially a blood-pulsing Nintendo. There are no computers in the film: just the mutated organisms that are Cronenberg’s trademark. And oh does he put them to good use.
Leigh is Allegra, not an allergy medication, but rather the designer of the hottest games on the planet. And eXistenZ stands to be her masterpiece. The object of the game – as is the case with all games that become the centerpiece of movies–is to learn the object of the game. And in this instance, it turns out that some anti-game ‘Realists’ are on Allegra’s tail, so she has to head inside eXistenZ to ensure everything’s kosher, with helpful Jude Law as a sidekick.
Or so we are led to believe. eXistenZ the movie quickly becomes a game within a game within a game within etc…. Not only are we unsure of what’s real and what isn’t, neither are the characters. Unfortunately, this conceit kinda gives away the whole film, making it overly simplistic and cliched for what I’d expect from Cronenberg, who visited this territory before in Videodrome. Frankly, The Matrix did it better.
Still, eXistenZ is a good ride. But eat before you come. The meals on display here are for presentation only.
Leigh wields a pair of deadly chopsticks.