EXISTENZ [1999] movie review

July 20, 2013 · Print This Article

Sometimes a movie sticks in my mind for years because of the title alone. EXISTENZ [1999] is one of those movies and I finally watched it this evening, out of the blue. For a movie with such a high tech plot related to playing games you actually physically jack into and play virtual reality style, the movie itself looks extremely analog and organic. This was a surprise to me as I expected lots of video game looking scenes. Actually, the game play scenes looked just like live action, making it all the more disconcerting.

Jude Law and the beautiful Jennifer Jason Leigh are paired together and on the run most of the first half of the movie. She is the best game designer in the world, he is a new low level employee of her employer, and has never even played any game, let alone one of hers. A select audience is getting a preview of her latest game, and things go bad from there as apparently there is a large faction, perhaps within the game company itself, that want Leigh’s character Allegra dead.

The viewer is given very little to understand the broader state of the world. What we see looks like it could be 1980 or 1970 as the meeting place is an old church, one of the first places they flee to is an hold motel, then (literally) a country gas station. The world we see looks much older than even the 1999 film release date, except for the gadgets they use to play the game, which are not electronic at all, but rather organic blobs with intestine like connectors. It is very gross and also erotic how one harnesses this form of game play.

Writer-director David Cronenberg is very imaginative in that regard showing bio-tech and then virtual reality game play as looking just like the real world, not polygons to be seen anywhere.

From here the movie becomes rather mind bending. Leigh says they need to play her new game to make sure it is ok, or I really don’t remember. However, when they do they both start to lose touch with what is the real world and what is not and who is really trying to kill who for what reasons. It is done in a rather clever way and does not feel like a gimmick. You really get a feeling of being trapped along with Law and Leigh in the game and in that strange futuristic world, that just happens to not look futuristic besides the fact an organic virtual reality game system exists. EXISTENZ will leave you thinking.

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