Judgment Play?

I had a strange experience this weekend. I watched a movie that really made me think about future technology and it’s possible effects on the human species. I’d compare it to my thoughts regarding Terminator – technology is awesome, until it goes too far. Then the movie ended and I wanted to go all “Sarah Connor” and take out the game developers of the world. The movie was called eXistenZ and it absolutely sucked.

David Cronenberg directed eXistenZ (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) back in 1999. Allegra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Ted (Jude Law) are on the run from indiscriminate bad guys who want to steal the new video game she’s developed. It also stars some of my favorite genre actors, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm and Callum Keith Rennie. As you can see above, the system itself looks like a giant, malformed ear with an umbilical cord attached. In the film almost everyone has bio-ports installed directly into their spines for the most realistic of virtual realities. The umbilical cord gets plugged into your bio-port an voila, you’re in the Matrix. I mean, game.

The system and the port are disgusting. So disgusting in fact, that Ted originally doesn’t have one because he has a phobia of things penetrating his body. Don’t worry! That’s what the chapstick lube is for (don’t get me started on what else went in there). All grossness aside, the concept of the game itself is pretty cool. Allegra and Ted enter it as the main characters. They start conversations with NPC’s to figure out what to do next. If you don’t say the correct dialogue the NPC will go into a loop until you do. You’ll even have your characters personality and intentions mix in with yours to keep you going. Think about playing something like Resident Evil as Chris or Claire Redfield and actually walking around Racoon City speaking with a random security guard, doctor, etc. I think it sounds like fun. The only problem is, it’s so real, you don’t know when you’ve stopped playing.

That’s the issue for the main characters in eXistenZ, every time they think they’re out they seem to be in another game. Think about how connected people are to their Wiis, XBOXs and Playstations these days. Now think about how hard it would be to tear yourself away from a game that felt like real life but where you got to act out the impulses and actions of a fictional character with no repercussions. Parents are already worried about their kids emulating game characters, this would make game characters indiscernible from real people.

The movie was weird. I can’t stress that enough. Guns made out of mutant lizard bones that shoot human teeth weird. It certainly got me thinking and I’m sure that’s what David Cronenberg hoped to do but it’s not surprising his movie was overshadowed by The Matrix that same year. For all the unique ideas, it just fell flat. If you’re an extreme gamer or you get off watching movies about the eventual decline of the human race, eXistenZ might just be for you.

7 Responses to “Judgment Play?”

  1. I love this movie. Came out around the same time as the original Matrix. Similar premise- but was completely overshadowed by it.

  2. The General says:

    I remember seeing this movie years ago in the theater, and while it wasn’t the Best Thing Ever(tm), I thought it was interesting and entertaining (and disgusting in a deliberate -almost silly- way). Good, but not great, stuff.

  3. For the record, I thought it was David Lynch weird too. :)

  4. Laid Off says:

    I forgot about this movie!

    Saw it years ago, and I thought it WAS David Lynch weird. I mean, I’ve never been a huge fan of Cronenberg as a director. With the only possible exception of The Fly, they’ve all seemed better in theory than in fact.

    I remember seeing it after The Matrix released, and thinking, “Huh. Matrix did it better.”

  5. I saw it when it came out and actually thought it was a good movie (confusing’s not necessarily a bad thing, plus with David Cronenberg I’d expected weird – at least it’s not David Lynch weird). Not seen it since then, so my view of it could be wrapped in rosy nostalgia (I thought Cronenberg’s Dead Zone was great, but it seemed ridiculously slow and ponderous, not to mention dated, when I caught it again on TV recently).

  6. Haha, let me know what you think of it.

  7. Watching the trailer for this film was extremely confusing. I, however, immediately put it onto my netflix queue and hope to understand just what the hell was going on in due time.