Thursday, March 28, 2013

eXistenZ (1999)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

In a strange and illogical future, video games are kind of a big deal, and Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a revered game designer working for one of the two top gaming companies. Her latest game, eXistenZ, is being tested by a panel of fans, but a group of assassins bound in the fight against virtual reality attacks the demonstration and Allegra finds herself running for her life with only a marketing lackey named Ted Pikul (Jude Law) to help her. She fears the attackers have sabotaged her game, and convinces Ted (a total n00b) to play it with her to determine if it's been compromised. But everything is kind of confusing, and various levels of reality begin to surface.

So reading the premise of this movie really didn't prepare me for what it actually is, and that was mostly ok because it turned out to be more Cronenbergian than I had anticipated. Even though on paper it sounds sort of cyber-punky and sci-fi-thrillery, it's still in keeping with his more characteristic works. One thing I kind of love about Cronenberg is how he's always super weird about sex and how that ties into his body horror, and eXistenZ unexpectedly touches on this with its super sexualized game technology and obvious sexual parallels within gameplay. He also seeks to comment on our changing perception of reality and the problematic social interactions encouraged by virtual technology. These concepts are all interesting, especially when fit into a bendy thriller from a highly imaginative filmmaker, BUT unfortunately it doesn't quite come together. Cronenberg is out of his element when it comes to video games so a lot of the film just comes off as pointlessly nonsensical- the story is all over the place and the resolution is overly convenient in explaining certain inconsistencies while totally glossing over others.

Uneven as it is, eXistenZ does have some good ideas. The effects and tech design are weird and gross, just what you want from Cronenberg, and I did enjoy the premise of a world obsessed with virtual reality. Also I have to point out how exciting it is that the lead character in a sci-fi movie is a female game designer. I mean, that's just atypically cool! I liked Jennifer Jason Leigh in the role, she's kind of off-putting and obsessive but also sexy, and while I was frustrated that she was wearing stilettos while running around in a video game, I realized she's pretty short and it might have been to keep her in frame with Jude Law. Also to be fair the video game they play is not actually that action-y. It's more about hanging out and sometimes shooting people. ANYWAY this movie is made up of strange and interesting parts but is not exactly a functional whole.


Pair This Movie With: eXistenZ is basically a video game version of the far-superior Videodrome, so they would definitely work together as an exploration of certain themes (obsession with technology, sexual/bodily connections with technology, weird brainwashing, etc).