' ' Cinema Romantico: eXistenZ

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


"Come on, Pikel, nobody actually physically skis anymore." - Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), "eXistenZ"

Funny how the mind works. I had been thinking about crazy Canadian David Cronenberg's 1999 video game opus since seeing Christopher Nolan's "Inception" not simply because they both kinda deal with worlds of alternate realities but mainly because they shared similar mind-f--- "Lady Or The Tiger?" endings. When I finally got around to re-watching "eXistenZ" (yes, that is how it's spelled) for the first time in 10+ years I found myself thinking less about its parallels with "Inception" and more about the Mii that had been created for me at my Friends Reunion Weekend in Iowa.

As the film opens the greatest video game designer in the world, the brilliantly named Allegra Geller, is addressing an apparent townhall meeting in regards to her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ, and as she and several fellow gamers prepare to delve into it a young psychotic stands up with the strangest looking gun in the history of mankind, bellows "Death to the demoness Allegra Geller!" and attempts to assassinate her. He fails. And Allegra and her bodyguard/marketing assistant Pikel (Jude Law) flee for safety.

That there, folks, in Jude Law's hand is what we call a Gristle Gun.
Okay. So back to that gun. It's organically made, or something, "a gristle gun", and fires, ahem, human teeth. Perhaps, we think, this movie is not all that it seems. Especially when Pikul advises he was never fitted with one of these funky bio-ports that is necessary to play Allegra's game and, thus, Allegra decides in the midst of assassination attempts that he needs one to which he says something like "You can't just get fitted for bio-port" at the country gas station at which point the film cuts to a Country Gas Station (literally) and a guy named Gas (Willem Dafoe, perfectly cast), an Allegra Geller worshiper, who takes poor Pikul in back and hooks him up with a bio-port.

And now it becomes difficult to discuss "eXistenZ" in specifics for fear of revealing too much because like "Inception" there are layers bundled up in layers, mysteries wrapped in riddles. When you compare the two films what is strange is how "Inception" is based on dreams but often comes across like a video game with assorted levels of advancement and machine gun fire for machine gun fire's sake while "eXistenZ" is based on video games but often comes across like a dream in which nothing makes sense, where people craft guns at trout farms and go to Chinese Restaurants in the forest and asks for "the special because there is no special" and then you wake up and try to remember how it all fit together.

Both films also overflow with exposition. "There are things that have to be said to advance the plot and establish the characters, and those things get said whether you want to say them or not," explains Allegra, and that line could also function as a single sentence synopsis of "Inception". Of course, one of the nifty little tricks of "eXistenZ" is that all the exposition and all the wooden acting and all the questionable special effects are allowed a scapegoat by the film's conclusion and this troubles me less in relation to "eXistenZ" itself than in relation to the future of movies where eventually every screenplay will have a giant Reveal solely as a means justify their onslaught of exposition. That'll be the day.

And that brings me back to my Mii, the same glasses, the same hair, the same face, the same everything. I wanted my Mii to look like Billy Crudup but I was overruled. What happens when our Mii does everything for us? Do kids these days shoot hoops in their driveways and pretend they are hoisting up the shot to win the National Championship or do they just play basketball downstairs on the Wii? Will there come a day when nobody actually physically skis anymore? Will Linsdey Vonn compete at the next Olympics not on an actual slope but in a room at some Sheraton as her Mii?



Tom Clift said...

I just watched this the other day for the first time, and I too was struck by the similarities to Inception. I think the movie makes some really interesting points about violence in games (I recommended it to all my gamer friends). Good review!

Ashley Kuehl said...

That's it. I'm not getting a mii this year. I don't care what anyone says. Thanks for giving me a way out.