The director David Cronenberg is known for biological horror (physical and/or psychological unpleasant violations of the body). And he doesn’t disappoint in his movie eXistenZ, albeit it is a little tamer than his others. But don’t get me wrong here, there are still weird and grisly scenes but just not as extreme as some of his other work (Naked Lunch, The Fly).
Movies sometimes get a lot of hype and over shadow other movies released at the same time and therefore you may miss them. 1999 was like that for me. That was the year that The Matrix came out. It’s one of my favourite movies and I’ve seen it many times. But it was years later when looking for sci fi movies from the 90s that I saw eXistenZ as it had literally slipped under my movie radar. And not just that movie that year but also The Thirteenth Floor, which I write about here.
Game Pod Goddess
Imagine a dusty, drafty church hall with a little stage and about fifty wooden chairs facing it. However, the people on the chairs are not churchgoers but gamers. Speaking with an American accent, Christopher Eccleston (seminar leader) faces the gamers and goes into his schpiel about the company Antenna Research and their new game that he wants them to product test. He introduces the designer of the game Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as the Game Pod Goddess and that she will play the game with them. Excited murmurings are heard from the audience. Allegra steps onto the stage and quietly states, “eXistenZ is not just a game. It is an entirely different new game system. It involves a whole lot of new toys, which you will be the first to try out.” The crowd erupts into cheers and claps.
There are 12 Meta Flesh Game Pods and 12 volunteers are required to play and test the game product. This is our first clue that we are watching a Cronenberg movie. The pods are flesh coloured and look like a toy baby doll has been melted down and shaped into a very strange looking game controller with nippley knobs and crevices.
“It’s Going To Be A Wild Ride”
Of course everyone’s hand shoots up to play and the 12 volunteers take a seat on the stage in a semi circle. As they get plugged into the game their pods are squirming around in their laps making quiet animal squeaking noises. Allegra tells them she will download eXistenZ into all of them and warns them, “It’s going to be a wild ride.” At this point a young guy (Kris Lemche) turns up late and is stopped by Ted Pikul (Jude Law) at the door to be searched and scanned before entering. He passes the scan and sits down.
They have their eyes closed and they start to play the game. Lemch is fiddling around in his bag and suddenly jumps up and holds a weird looking pistol at Allegra and shouts “Death to the demoness Allegra Geller!” He shoots her but it’s not fatal. Frantic running around and screaming ensues. The seminar leader is shot, Ted goes to him and as he slowly drifts off into death he tells Ted to get Allegra out of the church hall and to trust no-one.
Mutated Amphibians Are A Sign Of The Times
Driving a long in a Land Rover, Ted is completely out of his comfort zone with the responsibility of protecting and taking care of Allegra, telling her that he is just a Market Researcher. Miss Geller is not impressed and is consumed with ensuring her own pod has not been compromised due what has just happened. She is not impressed further when she asks Ted she needs a friendly player to play the game with so that she can check her possibly damaged pod. He does not have a bio port (a hole in the base of your spine so that you can plug and play) and therefore cannot play any games. He says it’s too freaky. She says it’s like getting your ears pierced.”
They go to a country gas station to see a guy about a bio port. That guy is the darkly funny Gas (Willem Dafoe). While Ted gets his bio port fitted Allegra wanders outside and sees a tiny mutated amphibian with 2 heads. Apparently, it is a sign of the times.
“I’ll Have The Special”
The movie now centres with them either on the run from the assassins trying to kill them or playing the game. And sometimes doing both as the same time. The scenes switch about from being in the real world to the game and back again. When they are in the game they are the real players and everyone else is a NCP (Non-Character Player). They have to give and receive line cues from the NCPs. Ted and Allegra’s behaviour and speech change when they are playing the game because they are now not themselves but game characters.
One of my favourite scenes is in the Chinese restaurant that they go to for lunch. They order the special from the Chinese waiter (Oscar Hsu). It is a sinister and creepy part of the movie. Pre-warning: it may also make you gag a little. Have you ever watched the TV game show called I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here? The celebrities are in a jungle and they eat all types of bugs and parts of creatures like eyeballs to earn points? Say no more.
Play The Game
Again, I’ve given you a taster (pun intended) but there is a load more to the movie. Keep your eye on the ball so to speak because the film moves around a lot. You’re left asking yourself at different points whether they are still in the game or are they back to reality (whatever that is)?
It WAS a wild (and fun) ride for me. This movie will definitely appeal to all you gamers out there. It will also attract anyone into the latest VR technology and Elon Musk’s musings about us living in a video game or simulation. Or, if you just enjoy a great sci fi movie and don’t mind a sprinkling of Cronenberg gruesomeness.
At this stage you may be asking yourself, so what is the goal of the game called eXistenZ? Well, as Allegra tells Ted when he asks her that, “You’ve got to play the game to find out how to play the game.” Bit like life then.
Hey! Don’t dc just yet, are you going to watch the movie? Tell us what you thought in the comments below.
GG everyone, hf!
Respect to the Image Makers!