Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Existenz

I wanted to start this article by stating the fact that I am a huge David Cronenberg fan, he has crafted some of my favorite movies of all time, so his movies generally "speak" to me. Existenz was one of the few Cronenberg movies that I have not watched to this point in my life. The name turned me off to the movie itself, which is dumb on my part, considering I've seen movies with titles such as Hobo with a Shotgun and Shocker. This has been in my Netflix queue for well over a year and I finally decided to take the plunge and watch it.

Existenz tells a story about the near future where electronic game consoles have been replaced by "game pods", which are organic devices that jack into "bio ports" in people's spines. Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the world's most famous game designer, is unveiling her newest creation to a test group, when she is attacked by a terrorist. She is saved by Ted Pikul (Jude Law) and is whisked away to the country to hide from the various groups looking to take her out. She soon convinces Ted to play her new game, Existenz, because she needs to play along with a person she can trust. The movie then spirals into a jumble of lies, deceit, and multiple realities.

If you are not a fan of complicated, thought provoking movies, you may want to stop reading this review right now. Cronenberg has a tendency to mess with the viewer's perception of what is happening on screen but here he takes it to a completely different level. When going into this movie consider it as a more complicated version of The Matrix but with a much lower budget. The movie centers around the idea of what reality actually is. If something feels real and seems real, but isn't real, does that take away from your experience. We see as the main characters transported into the game, Existenz, and how it seems just like real life to them. At first, they acknowledge that they are in a game, but as they get more immersed in the game their hold on reality starts to slip away.

As the movie progresses, we get games within games and Allegra completely comes undone and we see that she loses all understanding of what is "real" and "not real". She seems to be in a daze and is letting the game mechanics guide her. Her exposure to the game while developing it has tainted her perception of reality because it has caused her to find reality boring when compared to the more exciting game world. Ted is a newcomer to the game world, so he is much more resistant to the effects, and he shows how you still have to hold on to reality no matter how invested you are in a fake world. Cronenberg was way ahead of the curve with this movie. The movie serves as a metaphor for social network addiction and people being obsessed with video games. People get so invested in a world where they don't have to have actual physical interactions with people and they forget how to function in the real world.

The effects in this movie are disturbing and Cronenberg doesn't shy away from his trademark gore and ultraviolence. In a movie filled with gore and gums made of mutant lizard bones, the most disturbing effects involve the "game pods" The gaming systems in this movie are made of harvested animal organs and are actual living organisms. They can bleed and catch colds just like you and me. They are temperamental and need to be treated with care by the people developing the games in order to function properly. They are flesh pods with tentacles that come out of them, that connect with people's spine to show them the game world. They were just fucking creepy, and the last thing I would ever want from a game system is it hooking into my spine with a fleshy tentacle. Cronenberg also created a bone gun that uses teeth as bullets, so that gives you a good indication of what you are getting into if you choose to watch this.

I loved this movie and it was just the right amount of weird where its weirdness didn't detract from the overall movie. Some movies are weird just to be weird, such as The ABCs of Death, where it just destroys any chance of me enjoying it. Existenz is a perverted version of The Matrix and I could definitely make the case that it is a superior movie as well. A couple of weird facts about this movie: It was passed on by a couple of studios because its plot was "too complicated" and it was originally conceived by Cronenberg as a story about "a Fatwa against a virtual reality designer". Pretty interesting if you ask me.

I tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible due to the complex nature of the plot. Existenz is one of the most complicated and engaging movies that I have seen in awhile. It is overly ambitious, as most David Cronenberg are, but it never gets bogged down and is excellent from start to finish. Check this out on Netflix and don't wait a year like I did.