eXistenZ – 3 out of 5
My earliest exposure to David Cronenberg and his work was Scanners and The Fly. I saw them both sometime around middle school and I thoroughly enjoyed them. It wasn’t until I graduated high school and started college that I began to seek out his other work. Over the course of my college career, I spent the downtime between classes, playing Mario Party with my friends and being rejected by women with watching Cronenberg’s films. Crash, Videodrome and this film, eXistenZ, were all making their rounds in my DVD player. It took some time for me to really get into some of Cronenberg’s other body horror films and stuff like this film weren’t instantly enjoyed by me because I didn’t quite appreciate the man’s work yet (okay, Rabid, on the other hand, I just didn't like after I saw it for the first time and that was after I started to really dig his work). Honestly, I didn’t care for eXistenZ very much when I first saw it but the other day I decided to watch it again to see if age and the fact I’m no longer feeling the burn of constant rejection from college girls has improved my outlook on the film…it was also strangely appropriate to watch the film in today’s day and age but I’ll get to that in a minute.
|"Whoa...my butt looks weird from this angle..."|
Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is not only someone who can help you with your seasonal allergies but is a highly regarded game developer. In Cronenberg’s world, video games have taken a drastic change than to what we are seeing now. In Cronenberg’s world, next gen systems aren’t just making graphics 10% better and charging twice the price for the system—nope, next gens are virtual reality and the systems are living organisms that have little clitoris-like things on them to activate them and they plug directly into your spine (it’s a Cronenberg movie, remember that. He lives for this kind of shit). Anyway, Allegra has created what is suppose to be the best game possible but there is a group out there that isn’t too fond of people plugging into a virtual reality and not staying is reality reality, and an assassination attempt is made on her. She quickly flees with the help of a PR nerd named Ted Pikul (Jude Law) and while on the run discovers that her pod has been damaged and the only copy of her game is contained within it. Now she must figure out how to get her game out but quickly finds out that she can no longer tell who is friend or foe and, after plugging herself into her pod, also discovers that the lines between reality and fantasy are blurring to the point that neither is recognizable.
|Well, clearly this part is virtual reality. Who buttons their coat up all the way to the|
When I first saw eXistenZ, I found the whole experience strange. The film had game systems that looked like tumors, there was this strange sexual undertone when it concerned plugging this system into your spine and even activating it, there was a strange bone and guts gun that shot teeth, and I just found the overall handling of gaming to be too silly to take seriously. Gaming in this film was way too drastically different from my Nintendo 64. When I first watched this around 2001 or 2002, I kept thinking, “Is this what David Cronenberg really thought gaming was going to end up being when he made this in 1999?” Over time, I eventually forgot about the film until I was watching Jason X during Fear Fest on AMC and spotted him (I forgot he was in that film) and I started to reminisce on his films. I then said, “Hey, remember eXistenZ? I should watch that again.” So I did.
|Seriously, that bone gun is nasty.|
Revisiting eXistenZ definitely is a better experience than the original voyage I had with the film. Sure, I still think the pod gaming systems are kinda silly and the tooth shooting bone gun is still really strange to me but now that I’m more familiar with Cronenberg’s tropes and his love of body-based horror and all-around gross shit, these elements aren’t as shocking or jarring as they were the first time. The one thing above all else that I notice more prominently than I remember noticing when I first watched the film is the fact I don’t really dig the acting in the film.
|Ew, gross. There's no way I'd used this system...unless it has the new GTA--then, by all|
means, hook that shit up to my spine!
The film came out in 1999 and Jude Law still wasn’t the guy we know him to be today—a time before it felt like it was a legal requirement to have him in at least 2 or 3 movies a year. Now, he has a definite style to his performance that can easily be described as a “quiet cool.” In eXistenZ he isn’t as subdued as we see him now, he’s a little more crazed and awkward—which is perfect for the character but Law doesn’t really feel like he’s pulling it off. He’s not bad—in fact, he’s fine in the role and when I first watched the film this wasn’t an issue but after watching Law in the passing years and seeing him grow as an actor made going back to see him in this one a strange trip. This performance looks amateurish compared to his current work.
|I have no caption for this...I just liked this screen shot of Jude Law.|
The one thing about the acting that I really noticed was how cheesy Jennifer Jason Leigh was. Now, due to the story and the fact the movie involves a video game, some cheesy performances are done on purpose and they are fine when you understand the reasoning for said cheesy performance but throughout the film Leigh’s performance feels hammy and like she is laying it on pretty thick. I wasn’t a fan of her performance the first time I saw this film and I definitely didn’t enjoy it the second time around. It was too hard to get into her character when it looks like she is the community theater drama coach who feels she is the greatest actor and is always eliminating her leads to take the starring role because she one day was in that commercial everyone saw so that makes her an expert on acting.
|Still, she's not horrible...we're not talking about Sam Worthington levels of hammy acting.|
One thing that I enjoyed greatly on this revisit was the subtleties that Cronenberg took when providing clues to what reality Allegra and Ted are in. While the question of whether or not they were still in the game was cool to College Rev. Ron and it made him say, “Whoa, trippy…pass me the bong,” the sneaky clues that Cronenberg threw in (like the state of Allegra’s hair—something I never picked up on in the first viewing…and, yes, I did just say that the state of her hair is a clue to what reality they are currently in) were a little more appreciated by Post-College Rev. Ron. Post-College Rev. Ron was still saying “Whoa” but this time he wasn’t asking for the bong but spending more time looking for other clues Cronenberg tossed in.
|"We're just treating your pod's Red Ring of Death..."|
Deciding to watch eXistenZ now felt strangely appropriate due to those misogynistic assholes involved in GamerGate. If you don’t know what GamerGate is, I would suggest you Google it but your faith in humanity will be shaken greatly as you learn gamers can be a collection of really shitty people. If you ask a supporter of GamerGate what it is all about, they’ll tell you that it is about “more transparency in gaming” and the “ethics of journalism” but these are just buzz words that the supporters don’t understand because all the data showed it was all about threatening women with rape and death that had the nerve to A) have a vagina in a community that is archaically still believed to be a “boy’s club” and B) had the audacity to speak up and point out that there is some misogynistic tendencies in the industry and the products they put out. Even if the whole point of GamerGate was about ethics in game journalism, the reaction from the community shows that they don’t actually understand what the term “ethics” means as they had no reaction when a male journalist was fired from a video game website for giving a bad review to a game that was paying to advertise on the site and instantly believed that a female game developer was sleeping with journalist for a good reviews of her game after accusations were started by a butthurt ex-boyfriend and were pretty clearly debunked as a total fabrication—do you think these individuals went after the journalists who accepted the fictional sexual favors and sent them death threats and statements about how they were going to rape them? Haw, no! Those journalists have penises, so that wasn’t going to happen. Even stranger is the fact that the supporters will continue to support this movement and will only casually condemn the actions of the rape/death threat-ers. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy but if I was in an organization that claimed it was about social justice (even though GamerGate clearly wasn’t), I wouldn’t associate myself with it once rape and death threats start getting hurled around. Then again, the supporters have shown that they don’t actually have any simple grasp of what “ethics” means and they are flat-out refusing to call out the shittiest of their shitty group, so maybe they’re not the brightest bulb on this awful string of Christmas lights. Hey guys, prove you're smarter than the others and call out the assholes who are threatening people!
|"Wow...did they really think rape threats were going to make them look sympathetic|
Why am I bringing up the GamerGate? Sure, it could be because I wanna talk trash about the people who have made me embarrassed to admit that I play video games (I’ll be damned if I will ever call myself a gamer again. I will NOT associate myself with guys who turn a blind eye to rape/death threats on women) but the reality is I found some creepy parallels between this movie and the misogynists that still make up the loudest majority of the gaming community. Right off the bat, the movie opens with a crowd of gamers wildly cheering a female game developer and the first thing I through off was GamerGate. Despite the fact that Cronenberg is showing a world where gaming has blurred the lines between reality and fantasy and that there are people out there who will bring death on those who blur those lines, he was wildly optimistic in showing a world where the gaming community was celebrating a female game developer on the merits of her work and weren’t foaming at the mouth ready to pounce on her the moment someone claims something awful about her. In today’s society, Allegra Geller would have been introduced and male gamers would have instantly began to claim her accolades were because she had sex with men to get them and would have attacked her and her family with threats of sexual assault and then claim they were being “social justice warriors” trying to bring about change in the ethics of journalism.
Yes, the parallels to GamerGate and this film are not concrete and watching the movie now isn’t somehow accidentally creating a metaphor but watching it in a reality where female stars like Felicia Day are scared to admit they play video games or even dare critique them in anyway because it could mean that a neck-bearded woman-hater will dox the living fuck out of her, drive her from her home, and threaten her safety feels oddly appropriate for today’s current times. I hate that I live in a world where seeing a female game developer get praise in a movie instantly make me say, “Yep, this is fiction,” but seeing Allegra have threats imposed upon her and flee for her life couldn’t help remind me of the shit that the D-bags put too many women through. Thankfully they don’t have the ambition to actually get off their computer to make those bone guns…then again, they don’t have the ambition to easily solve their supposed issues with ethics in game journalism—here’s an idea, if you feel a journalist is involved with a modern day radio payola scandal with reviews for games, don’t support that website and find one that fits with your ideas of ethics…or just don’t get made about ethics in journalism because that shit never actually existed and it’s a silly thing to be upset (or claim to be upset) about.
Now, I'm totally aware that speaking disparagingly about GamerGate and the dudes who made awful threats to women they felt were terrible opens me up to the same treatment from the GamerGate community but what are you going to do? Maybe those members will finally realize how their ridiculous and violent reactions aren't helping anyone listen to them...maybe.
|The look I'm probably going to have when the death threats from the GamerGate community|
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So, I concede that my second viewing of eXistenZ may not have improved my feelings about the movie greatly and I still see it as one of my least favorite Cronenberg films. However, that isn’t to say I hate the film…I just hate that bone gun that shoots teeth—man, that this is just nasty! I also admit that watching it now after the whole GamerGate shit-storm occurred has made the film take on a new level of meaning but, overall, the film is pretty average for me. It’s watchable but doesn’t seem to have the same ambition or the darker undertones that I see in Cronenberg’s other films.