With a cast including the likes of Jude Law, Ian Holm and Willem Dafoe, I felt like I was in good company watching eXistenZ. That, along with the fact it was written and directed by David Cronenberg (Scanners, Videodrome) was… well, promising. What followed instead was a 97 minute cyberpunk crap shoot about anal rape (by way of “bio-porting”) that sees Jude Law “submit” to Willem Dafoe. Never before has a film made me feel so utterly uncomfortable… and I have seen some weird and uncomfortable things.
In the world of eXistenZ people immerse themselves into virtual reality games by plugging into creepy, fleshy, amoeba-shaped gaming consoles called pods with what appears to be an umbilical cord (aka bio-porting). World famous female game developer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is under fire by a fanatical group for blurring the line between games and reality. Some of these extremists sneak into a focus group with an organic bone gun that shoots teeth as bullets! Marketing trainee turned bodyguard, Ted Pikul (Jude Law) is then charged with protecting Geller, but mostly becomes infected/sick by having defunct bioports installed.
Debuting a month after The Matrix both films feature virtual reality ports installed into humans, in this instance at the base of the back instead of the neck, but eXistenZ doesn’t hold up nearly as well. What is supposed to come across as a gritty, sensuous and sexy take on cyber punk is anything but. Cronenberg got the gritty part down alright, I felt dirty watching this (not to mention a little nauseated) by the end.
Where Cronenberg and company really start to lose me is not the sex toy-like game consoles and accessories, the bone gun (one of the more awesome props), Pikul going from marketing trainee to bodyguard, or Willem Dafoe’s character named Gas forcefully inserting a bioport into Pikul’s back, but that the most famous game developer in the world creates a game where you work in a “fish” factory gutting what appears to be various amphibious mutations. That really doesn’t seem like a game worth killing someone over… perhaps disgusting Kafka-esque games are uber cool in this alternate future? A lot of time and money was spent on those disgusting slimey frog/fish monsters which possibly could have been better implemented elsewhere.
Allegra Geller, for being the game developer of ExistenZ, doesn’t have much common sense when it comes to her own product. There is a scene where there is clearly a diseased gaming pod which she plugs into—for no reason other than BECAUSE—and she gets sick. Surprise! Weirder still, she gets sick while being in-game trying to plug into another game… it gets a little Inception-y there.
Overall I can see where this film’s premise and lead character were innovative for the time. Cronenberg is known for his social commentary about the public’s infatuation with media, Videodrome being the well-executed take on our infatuation with television. There’s a twist ending, which I won’t spoil in case you ever get a notion to watch this, but quite honestly I’d advise making a drinking game out of watching this. Drink every time there is a disgusting mutilated mutant, someone plugs in, and there is pod snuggling/fondling. Seriously, you’ll enjoy it much better… maybe.