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Home | Film Reviews | Cult Films | Film Review: eXistenZ (1999)

Film Review: eXistenZ (1999)

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Allegra Geller, the foremost game designer in the world, is testing her new virtual reality game named eXistenZ with a special test group. EXistenZ comes with an organic chasse and cord that resembles an umbilical cord that taps into the human mind. The game designer who created this virtual-reality game is also on hand to pre-test with the group. She is attacked by a fanatic assassin disrupting the game test. She flees with a young trainee employee from her company, Ted Pikul. Unfortunately, her organic gaming pod that contains the only copy of the eXistenZ game program, is damaged. Ted accepts a game-port in his own body so he can play the game with her to test if its broken.


Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Producer: David Cronenberg, Andras Hamori & others
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Defoe

From the mind of David Cronenberg, arrives yet another exploration in altered realities, organics, and obscure sexuality. Those who follow David’s work from creation to creation will recognize the return to what I consider his greatest love when creating a new piece. It’s his ability to tell a story that is much different than others we have experienced. “eXistenZ” is also not a film for everybody. Mainly because of its obscurities, it tends to de-commercialize its presentation and cater more to the fans of true Cronenberg-isms. The film would largely receive mixed reviews and most distinctly alienate the audience genre it tries to appeal to. This would be of course science fiction, action, and the more subtle elements of horror. In the case of David Cronenberg, that “horror” is often on a mental, visual level that doesn’t feel familiar to most. This is David Cronenberg’s greatest strength… to introduce these elements from his own point of view that we as viewers may not feel “as” comfortable with as in other releases. Though it is what makes his creations remarkable.

To break into the story, a review almost “requires” a littering of spoilers. I fear if not, then both the film and the review might not get thru to most people. David Cronenberg has created “eXistenz” modeled after game play and the “proposed future” of gameplay. As we evolve it is assumed that our level of immersion and experience should also evolve.

Game Designers (the noted ones), have become celebrities for their creations. A creation such as this one is meant to immerse the players, to connect them on a mental level, and to feel as real as their own true realities. This notion is a threat in some people’s eyes, but on the most part pretty exciting to the participants. One thing to keep in mind is as we are introduced to a crowd that has volunteered to “play” this new game, they are all joined “into” the game designer’s “bio-port” and connected on a mental level. As soon as the organic play button is pressed……we are directly into game play mode (we the film viewers as well).

What the film does to confuse, is to set us up for a dream within a dream scenario. This can be better illustrated in later films such as “Inception” that illustrates several levels of immersion. So our characters are immersed into level one, of which they interact and immerse into a “sub-level” of game play. It’s tricky but not that tricky as the sublevels becomes more stiffer, more animated and more visually weirder.

At the core root, “eXistenZ” is about assassinating the lead game designer. In this case it’s the “demoness Allegra Geller” (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ted Pikul (Jude Law) is the game’s PR agent who has yet to install a bio-port into his own body despite working for the firm that created it. He, like an infant, must take the first step into being penetrated (thru a procedure) to be able to assist Allegra. They of course run into characters and obstacles along the way in the from of characters like “Gas” Willem Dafoe. They also learn of a realists movement and the conflict between Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics.

“eXistenZ” offers many levels that need consideration. For one their is the organic level that has a game system being an organic creature of sorts that goes thru its own character levels (birth, operation, sickness, health, death and evolution). The players are using a system that plugs directly into their bodies without infection. The insertion is very sexually suggestive like a vagina being penetrated. Their bio-ports are connected by a fleshy umbilical cord that connects directly to the game pods (that are more like a hybrid stomach and breast piece combined). The game pod is then massaged in a abstract-erotic-fashion that launches one into a heightened form of ecstasy (in this case the experience of porting into the game environment is very fulfilling).

Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh also brings a subtle-to-heightened sexuality that emerges within the game. We first see her in a role that we’d assume to be a male-dominated occupation, and then thru the course of the film brought full circle from her male-like stance into a blossoming female that alludes eroticism and carefully directed positioning. Her transformation can be seen as her clothes and hairstyle progress from the designer model into an emerged version that sports a dress, high heels and an increased level of affection towards her PR/ bodyguard partner Ted.

The film also keeps its science fiction grounding by introducing several weird organic creatures during the course of its roll out.

So what does the final scene mean to us? Well of course its left on some levels to leave us with some air of doubt on “what” is reality (this is also questioned by Pikul and Allegra after shouting out). You will of course notice that the guns in this scene are real and not organic guns as seen in portions of the gaming mode. The end is left “as is” to finale on this question of reality. I think the director was telling us that once we start messing with our brains and altering our “perceived realities”, that we may never entirely be able to tell what “is” real and not. The last group was noted as only being “under” 20 minutes, but yet they felt like it was over several days. As mentioned before, we can point to the film “Inception” for more clarity on this idea.

A wonderfully interesting film that some may hate while others may embrace. I for one, really dug the strangeness of this film…….hail David Cronenberg!

“eXistenz” is now available on Bluray for the first time per Echo Bridge Entertainment

eXistenZ (1999)


  1. Seriously if this isn’t a long penis joke and features a cameo with Jimmy Johnson then what’s the point?


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