Hollywood always seems to release movies that are similar to each other back-to-back or near back-to-back. Take for instance the mad-bomber phase when Hollywood released both Speed (good) and Blown Away (bad) together. Or when the animated bugs took the screen with A Bug’s Life (good) and Antz (good also). Well, in 1999 there was a phase when Hollywood decided to release two movies about alternate or externally generated realities together. The first was a hit, and I loved it, it was The Matrix. The second I skipped and waited for DVD and that was eXistenZ. I finally got to see eXistenZ on DVD, am I glad I waited.
eXistenZ is the name of a virtual reality game developed over some five years by the world’s most famous and best game developer, Allegra Gellar (Jennifer Jason Leigh). After an attempt on her life, she is on the run and is being protected by a PR geek named Ted Pikul (Jude Law). In order to save her game, she has to go into it and play why she has to play the game in order to save it, I don’t know and I don’t remember the movie tell me either. So, she and Ted Pikul enter eXistenZ to play the game and save it.
Unlike most virtual reality or alternative reality movies, eXistenZ takes a different approach to “jacking in.” Instead of the standard fare of plugging into a computer, eXistenZ resides on an organic thing it’s hard to describe, but, in the movie it looks like a melted rubber mask from some monster movie that moves and makes little noises that you might expect out of a doll. The organic pod is plugged into the game player via a bio-port located at the bottom of the players back and it gets plugged directly into the player’s spine. All of this is good and fine, it’s actually pretty innovative.
What’s not to like about this movie? Well, to start off, I think director David Cronenberg has some sort of fetish with alien flesh or raw carcass. I was disgusted by most of the movie (not to mention I lost my appetite when I watched the Chinese restaurant sequence). Cronenbery just piles on the flesh, bones, and carcass throughout the movie and it reaches a point where I just said to myself, “Aw, this is complete crap.”
It doesn’t help that the script is completely predictable. The idea behind the script is standard fare when it comes to stories about alternate realities. It is much like The Matrix’s in that it leads the viewers through some alternate realities and then leaves the viewer to wonder what reality the characters are really in. Are they still in some alternate reality? Or are they in the “real” world"? Well, although both eXistenZ and The Matrix are predictable in that sense, at least The Matrix had some intriguing ideas behind it (albeit a little stupid like the humans-as-batteries idea) and it had some kick-ass action sequences to boot. eXistenZ had neither. The movie is about carcass about flesh. It’s about two people wandering through something that at any given point if they were killed, I wouldn’t give a damn. The story is so thin that I wondered halfway through the movie what the point of them playing the game was and like I said before, that was never explained.
The main actors Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh wander through the movie like their characters. Maybe they were just doing it for the extra cash, I can only hope they were. Especially for Jude Law who gave such a wonderful performance in another sci-fi film Gattaca, it was disappointing to see him in such schlock as eXistenZ. Leigh does what she can with her part, which is a part that has no excitement, no real character.
I’ve never been a fan of eXistenZ writer/director David Cronenberg and eXistenZ does not help to move me into his fan club either. Cronenberg is one of those auteur directors who love to do things differently, which I have nothing against. Some of the best directors go against the grain of Hollywood and make some of the best and most innovative films. But, Cronenberg seems to try way too hard at it. He tries to be way too different. Maybe he’s making the film for himself, I don’t know, but eXistenZ was not entertaining at all. It was predictable and disgusting. I wonder how Cronenberg got the green light on this project.
So, was there anything that I did like about this movie? Yes, only one thing. That was the haunting score by Howard Shore (The Game). Howard composes a wonderful score that is wasted on a terrible movie.
Skip eXistenZ, save an hour and a half of your time. This film is just garbage that’s not worth watching. If you want an alternative-reality film fix, then go rent The Matrix. Or if you want a film that will screw with your head about a different reality then go rent an older film named Jacob’s Ladder. eXistenZ is like a lot of the mutant animals in the film, an ugly mutated version of something that could have been beautiful. Skip eXistenZ.