Cyberpunk Review » eXistenZ

February 7, 2006

eXistenZ

Year: 1999

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Written by: David Cronenberg

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Allegra Geller: Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • Ted Pikul: Jude Law
  • Kiri Vinokur: Ian Holm
  • Gas: Willem Dafoe
  • Rating: 8 out of 10

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    Overview: Existenz is one of the really good twist-your-brain VR game movies. ExistenZ allows us to imagine a rather strange future where games themselves potentially tear down the fabric of humanity. David Cronenberg, master of the weird, has Jennifer Jason Leigh starring as Allegra Geller, a game designer who creates VR games that are inserted directly into the spinal cord from an invasive “game pod” modification into the middle back vertebrae. Entire sets of players use living “game pods” to interact in the VR games. In this movie, Allegra is doing a “focus group test” on her latest game called eXistenZ. Everything appears fine until all hell breaks lose when one of the players gets up and tries to Kill Allegra for destroying the fabric of society.

     

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    As the movie progresses, Allegra and Ted Pikul (played by Jude Law), an unsuspecting marketeer are thrown together during the escape. While on the run, Allegra talks Ted into experiencing eXistenZ. To do this, he needs to get a game pod installed in his back. Things go from bad to worse as they attempt to get a pod from a shady guy, and significantly damage Allegra’s game pod, which has the only copy of ExistenZ anywhere on it. As the movie progresses, Cronenberg makes sure the viewer never really knows if the characters are in the very real looking game, or are actually in reality.

     

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    The Plot and Pacing: The plot is more than passable in eXistenZ, the action is good, and the acting is above average. Jude Law, Leigh, Ian Holm and Willem Dafoe are very solid and engaging in selling this story. The pacing gyrates from massively wierd head-spins to periods of calm and reflection. All in all, it’s enough to keep you captivated.

     

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    The Bottom Line: ExistenZ asks the question whether we truly know when we are in reality or not? This is interesting in that if direct VR type connections get made to the human nervous system as Kevin Warwick’s work suggests might be one day (soon) possible, this question becomes significantly more pertinent. All in all, this makes for a wonderful cyberpunk flick with some terrific scenes and interesting thoughts. With a production budget of only 15 million, the visuals are not always high tech (there are a few cool beasties though), but the story serves to aid in suspension of disbelief.

     

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    Tags: cyberpunk movie review ExistenZ

    This post has been filed under 8 Star Movies, Good low-budget movies, VR Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 - 1999 by SFAM.

    Comments

    February 9, 2006

    Simonf said:

    I love eXistenZ it’s probably one of my favourite cyberpunkmovies of all time, if for nothing else just the quality of the acting alone. Great work with the site here btw I’ve always wanted to find some kind of cyberpunk film based repositary and lo here it is!

    SFAM said:

    Hi Simonf, welcome! I’m still hard at work at this, so there’s a good 40+ films still to put up, but hopefully I’ll be able to knock them out soon enough. Glad you enjoy it! And yeah, the acting in ExistenZ definitely sells the performance.

    June 23, 2006

    Dixie Flatline said:

    With eXistenZ director David Cronenberg gives us a very fresh and unique view on cyberpunk (and no, it is not just a rehash of Videodrome like many of the movie’s detractors say).

    Consider how the VR world is completely devoid of electronic technology - there are no TVs and no computers. Instead, all technology is organic: The cyberpods, the ping-phone etc. Now in every other sf movie, we are literally bombarded with heaps of futuristic electronic gadgets that the special-effects department has thought up which often don’t even have a relation to the story. Not so here - the lack of electronic technology is startling. We see all these weird organic, living pods which plug into an artificial hole in your body. They intrude into your own flesh and become an inseperable part of it.

    With this Cronenberg gives us a perfect analogy of what technology in real life has become. Even though we don’t feel a cellphone is part of us and we feel that we can always just shut down a computer, technology has become a part of our lives that we could hardly live without. Just imagine having to live without the Web, eMail, instant messaging, cellphones… We don’t really appreciate how all this technology has become an integral part of our identity.

    Highly recommended, eXistenZ is one of the best and most intriguing Sci-Fi movies ever. Stay away however if you are just looking for mainstream entertainment or a movie that has to spell it all out for you.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Dixie, great comments. Also, this is another indication of the need for me to expand my categories to include “Biopunk.”

    ETM said:

    Yes, eXistenZ is a good cyberpunk movie, too bad it’s not that good a movie in general… there’s a masterpiece in there somewhere, it’s just that Cronenberg didn’t quite find it.

    February 20, 2007

    Netrunner said:

    What I like most about eXistenZ is the idea of organic computer technology and strange-looking weapons made of bones. This is what makes this movie kinda special and wierd at the same time, but interesting none the less.

    And I would agree with the fact that this is not exactly a cyberpunk movie, since the technology presented here is not electronic but biological. So it is “biopunk”. That’s right.

    //Netrunner

    Com Wedge said:

    I love that term Biopunk. Can I use it for the title of a film you think? Would the people of Cyberpunk be willing to help write a script?

    The first time I watch eXistenZ I was in a dark room with headphones on my laptop’s DVD. I was utterly freaked out and blown away. The best part about this film for me was that the semi bad acting could be explained away as real life people playing a game “Oh my god black dots” It’s a riot! The uncomfortable factor was watching how comfortable some of the actors were with implanting biomechanical devices in their bodies plugging directly into their brain. That was awesome cinema. The game within a game allowed for limitless possibilities in this world. I just felt it was a pity that they couldn’t come up with ideas for locations that were a lot more intuitive and less localized and predictable.

    Com.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Com Wedge, the more biopunk movies the better! We’re all eagerly awaiting Gene Generation (Death is just an upgrade!), but more are definitely desired! As a title of a film, if you do it well, you could have a cult hit!

    As for the script, I’d certainly be thrilled to give you a reading or two on it. :)

    May 18, 2007

    roland said:

    Hi.

    I would like to use one of your pictures from ExistenZ fo my non-profit blog. Please give me a short feedback whether this is possible or not.

    Thanks.

    Roland J, Mueller
    Zurich/Switzerland

    June 28, 2007

    Richard said:

    At one point, they get some fastfood burgers. The name of the place as written on the side of the bag is “Perky Pat’s”.

    “Perky Pat” is a tip of the hat to a short story by Phillip K. Dick, wherein bored & lonely settlers on Mars who play with dolls while taking a drug that enables them to experience life as though they were in the dolls’ world.

    August 15, 2007

    gari said:

    Thanks so very much for taking your time to create this very useful and informative site.t

    August 31, 2007

    phil said:

    I’m glad to see all this attention about this wonderful film, however i’m sad to report that you’ve completely missed the point. This movie is not about video games or technology but the nature of reality. Video games are simply used as a medium. This movie is about the philosophical concept of existentialism and how we have been sucked into our roles to the extent that we cannot distinguish them from reality; as in the begining of the film (most were convinced) including the characters that this was the real world when in fact it wasn’t. There is more and more reason to believe that at the end of the movie they are still in a game, when comparing the constants that remain throughout every game they go in.ie : the dog. This movie is about the brainsnatched theory. Watching this movie through this new light will reveal the real majic behind cronenburg’s masterpiece.

    September 14, 2007

    Cibernadie said:

    i still can remember when i saw this little thing on TV, along with tank girl, Johnny Mnemonic, and many other “futuristic” movies that week. I dont know if that was intentional, because i can barely remember that year. anyway, The point is that i liked very much this movie, the best part was the end, it let you wondering if that was the “real reality” or they were still on the game… hell, maybe even there it wasnt a “real reality” at all. Things like this and the Matrix had make me a little paranoid about life, but thats what i like of those movies!

    October 22, 2007

    lindsay said:

    you guys are weird !

    November 27, 2007

    spacer said:

    eXistenZ will forever remain in the dark shadows of the matrix. This movie also felt like it was filmed in the eighties! nothing wrong with that but was that their intention? acting was lame and it a weird sense it makes this movie that much better….

    March 19, 2008

    Igor CyNOber said:

    Hi, I wrote along time ago a cyberpunk novel on a topic that is similar to the theme of eXistenZ. This is the story of a man imprisoned in VR without knowing it or doubting once escaped that he really escaped the VR prison. This a Computer-assisted Dream (CAD) made to use human brain just like CPU and Hard Disk during a civil war. Everything begins with a Play-by-eMail game between students and professors in a megacampus. This is in fact just a way to escape the heroe from his prison.
    I have translated the summary in English but the rest is in French. Anyhow it may interest you to know its existence ! This story was written between 1987 and 1994 and compuscript was finished 1995 (just a bad computer joke) and so when I saw eXistenZ movie, I found many common ideas with my sci-fi novel “FIRST DOUBTS”. I hope you will enjoy “PREMIERS DOUTES”. If some of you like the summary I will work on the translation, chapter by chapter.

    August 20, 2008

    synthetic_creature said:

    definitely enjoyed existenz.. i found the visuals to be pretty grotesque lol but that is typical of the genre i suppose. love stories like this where you cant discern what is real and what is not. cheers

    l1zrdking said:

    Just watched it, and alls i can say is, tooth gun.

    September 13, 2008

    imperia said:

    this is one of those awesome movies that you have to see

    December 7, 2008

    Katalyst said:

    The idea of biological technology is extremely intruiging! The idea has crossed my mind before but I never thought i’d see a movie about it! I disagree with anyone who thought this movie was a flunk. There is an amazing concept, fairly good acting, a developed plot and a great twist to the end :) This movie also falls under the cyberpunk concept because it deals with the idea of what is reality and what is virtual (or imaginary in this case).

    April 26, 2009

    martinhekker said:

    Lovely review of a great movie. The Perky Pat reference is beautiful.

    January 5, 2010

    Pef said:

    well , actually those of you who imagine a man-machine interface that doesnt use a biological machine are just dated and prejudiced.

    thus , a pure cyberpunk its just a market for selling books and movies.

    the brain , being a chemical-electrical computer , isnt compatible with a silicon machine , nor are its processes .

    biopunk is way more realistic and very likely the way our society will evolve to .

    I had this revelation when i was 10 years old , and read Dune …
    machines may be cool , with modern bluish lights (or red in the 70ies)
    but once we get to understand ourselves better , down to gene code and selective evolution , machines will be a fad from the past.

    cant wait for the Atreides genes !!

    February 2, 2010

    AnaDroid said:

    I was excited to watch this, but was very disappointed when I did.
    What a flat, nonsensical storyline, with a lame twist ending.
    The best part was definitely the tooth gun. That was one of the coolest moments in 90s cinema.

    March 14, 2010

    Anonymous said:

    I totally agree, this is the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time! Incoherent all the way, and the last 10 minutes are just ridiculous.

    There are some nice scenes, though, but all in all this movie is great potential totally wasted. The only reason to watch this is Jennifer Jason Leigh :D

    March 25, 2011

    Anonymous said:

    “but once we get to understand ourselves better , down to gene code and selective evolution , machines will be a fad from the past.”

    Uh, we’re going to need those machines to manipulate those genes you speak of.

    April 16, 2011

    Theresa Miller said:

    Wow. This convinced me!

    November 2, 2012

    Rosa Tinyteeth said:

    I though exisTenZ was a reworking of the themes in the superior Cronenberg classic Videdrome. “What is really real?” exisTenZ however you spell it is an okay film with good acting. A most A-list actors want to work with Cronenberg, I think he can get who he wants no problem.

    February 27, 2013

    Nano said:

    I think it’s cool that there are no “high tech gadgets” in this film (even if I love them in things like Total Recall), because it makes sense with the game’s point: “how do we tell reality from fiction?”. It wouldn’t make sense at all if the game world had spaceships, robots, and the like. It’s an interesting point, besides allowing for a smaller budget and more down-to-earth acting.

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