This is a Cronenberg movie set in a videogame-obsessed future where reality and the virtual reality of games have become indistinguishable from one another.
Game consoles look like deflated breasts with umbilical cords which you can use to connect your nervous system and consciousness to the virtual world of the game. You actually play the breasts like a controller. Imagine an Alien face-hugger with tits that plugs into your back. Multiple scenes of Jude Law groping a melted mannequin torso.
I do it at Macy’s, and I get banned from the mall. Jude Law does it in this movie, and it’s “art.”
eXistenZ came out a couple of weeks after The Matrix and they share the philosophical theme of mankind’s struggle to define reality while our relationship with technology becomes more singular. Both films have us winding up in manufactured realities, but where they differ is their imagining of how we get there.
In The Matrix, sentient robots plug humans into a virtual reality against their will. In eXistenZ, we are so bored with reality that we plug ourselves into virtual worlds for entertainment. Both movies explore our increasingly intimate relationship with technology and our hubris from believing that we are on the dominant end of this relationship.
I think eXistenZ got overlooked because there are no stars from Point Break firing handguns in slow-motion. The movie is less sensational than The Matrix. It’s also way grosser; it has the aesthetic of Naked Lunch and Videodrome. Lots of slimy creatures and inappropriate tonguing of techno-organic private parts. Jude Law makes a working pistol out of the skeleton of a mutated salamander.
The overall look is a little clunky. You’ll immediately think to yourself, “Yep. That’s what people in the 90’s thought the future would be like.”
What about the plot? It’s a lot like Inception; multiple people can “plug in” to these machines and share the “game play,” much like the dream-sharing machine in Inception. Once in the game world, you can plug into another machine, taking you to another game world within the game world, from which you can plug into another machine, etc. just like the layered “dreams within dreams” in Inception. As a matter of fact, Inception ripped this movie off big time. What the hell, Inception?!
Get ready for you head to explode: A game designer is almost assassinated and Jude Law has to go into game land with her via a controller-port installed in his spinal cord by Willem Dafoe the gas station mechanic. Then they have to go a few layers further into game worlds and old Bilbo Baggins with a Russian accent has to perform bootleg surgery on the Lombard region of a game system. And there is an anti-gaming cult that commits homicides. Jude Law licks mysterious holes and guts lots of fish. It all works out.