Yaaaay! Our crazy uncle Dave from Canada is back! Some of you may be too young to remember the last time director David Cronenberg made a film from one of his own, completely original scripts, which was “Videodrome” in 1983. Since then, he’s adapted four novels, a play (“M. Butterfly”), and made one very loose remake (“The Fly”). All of his features, except for the racing flick, “Fast Company”, have dealt with much the same themes of betrayal, by your friends, lovers, body, sanity, whatever. His adaptations never quite packed the sheer weirdness or displayed the unique little worlds of his original works. Now he’s back with “eXistenZ”, as in “existential nightmare”.
We open with a product-testing group of a new virtual reality game called, “eXistenZ”. Its creator, Allegra Gellar (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is on hand to lead the group through the first session. When she’s attacked by a pro-realism terrorist, new company employ Ted Pikul (Jude Law) carries her off to safety. Then the real game begins.
In the beginning, Allegra states, “People are led to expect so little, but the possibilities are so great”. She’s talking about games, but it might as well be the movies. Audiences are blown away by “The Matrix”, a film fine tuned over years, because they expect crap thrown together like “Godzilla”. Cronenberg (like the Wachowski brothers) has created a distinct universe, one that seems familiar but is revealed as quite alien.
The world inhabited by Gellar and Pikul features no computers, telephones, or traditional electronics of any kind. The games system Allegra uses, the MetaFlesh Game-Pod, is biologically engineered. Its nervous system plugs into a humans by an “UmbyCord” plugged into a standard bioport (it looks like an anus) implanted at the base of the spine. The living game system feeds off of its host and uses his/her personality and obsessions to direct the game. Even cell phones are now made of flesh.
Traditional settings and objects now have vastly different purposes. Big business has fled to the countryside. The game testing occurs in a church. Designers, like Allegra are revered like great writers. Game design takes place with small groups in secret, isolated settings such as an old ski chalet. A trout farm is now a plant to assemble game pods from parts of mutant amphibians. Undetectable guns are created from flesh and bone and human teeth.
When Gellar and Pikul enter eXistenZ, it becomes a funhouse distortion of their existing alien world. Like many larger videogames today, and life itself, the goal is one you must determine, one unique to you. Soon the two worlds are hard to distinguish.
This is not light-hearted entertainment. Be prepared to think. Uncle Dave will take you someplace new, but he has a lot of other issues to cover along the way and he’s not compelled to hit you over the head with them. He won’t give you any obvious answers, but he’ll raise the questions. It’s enough for me.