Pure Science Fiction #5–eXistenZ

eXistenZThe-Saturday-Afternoon-Shift-Existenz

Canada, 1999

Written and directed by David Cronenberg

Starring Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, and Ian Holm

Available to stream on Netflix


When I look at the history of mankind, it seems we continually create things that take us away from reality. First we started telling each other stories. Then we wrote them down and buried our faces in novels. Later we invented film and television so that we could actually see these incredible stories unfolding. Finally, with the creation of video games, we constructed a medium that can extract us from reality for hours on end without us even realizing we’re gone.

Often times, these fictional worlds are instructive. They provide insights into the truth of our own world, revealing things in a way that we couldn’t possibly see them in this reality. Those who find themselves immersed in those worlds often learn something about themselves in the process.

But escape can be taken to the extreme, and sometimes people lose touch with reality. I’ve been there. Many times, in the wee hours of the morning, twiddling my thumbs on an Xbox controller and drooling at the screen.

eXistenZ examines this desire of virtual realities over human reality. It asks the fundamental (pardon me) existential question, “Do we construct our own reality?” and takes it a step further by asking, “Can we construct others’?”

existenz02I don’t dare attempt to tell you the plot of the movie. It’s far too complicated and twisty. Plus, I don’t want to give anything away. All you need to know is that it involves the descent of two gamers into multiple levels of virtual reality. I give nothing away by saying that nothing is as it seems.

The movie plays on the same themes as Inception, and follows a similar story structure. But in eXistenZ we are not in the know. It keeps us guessing. So if Inception gave you a bit of headache, expect a migraine here. This one will require you to stretch both your imagination and your intellect. It merits a revisit not only for the pleasure, but picking out the bits we missed the first time. And I promise, there’s plenty to miss.

Beyond being a wild and engaging sci-fi thriller, eXistenZ is also a must see for any fan of video games. I think it’s safe to say Cronenberg spent hours of research with a controller in his hands. He nails everything recognizable about video games– the ridiculous plot points, the video game character archetypes, the behaviors, the lighting, even the bad accents that gamers know so well. Most importantly he has crafted a movie that captures the feeling that all gamers have–the immersion into another reality, and the adrenaline that can comes with the feeling of escape.

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