Viking Night: eXistenZ
By Bruce Hall
March 15, 2016
This week, we’re going to do a little role playing. You’re going to pretend to be someone who enjoys reading this column, and I’m going to pretend that I’ve never heard of David Cronenberg. I’ll meet you at the middle of the article. Come on, it’ll be fun. Just like the time I tried to explain what Brian Blessed sounds like, using phonetics. Here goes. And I’m going to start out really pretentious, like I’m writing for a student newspaper or a political blog.
Merriam-Webster defines an “anachronism” as “something...that is mistakenly placed in a time where it does not belong in a story, movie, etc.”. This, and oddly NOT the inexplicably bizarre spelling is why David Cronenberg's eXistenZ drives me crazy. But the fact that this is ostensibly a movie about gaming and gamers gets in my eyes like a single super annoying grain of sand, and I just can’t get it out! You know the way doctors can point out the bullshit in an episode of House, or a jet pilot can spot all the mistakes they made in Top Gun? Well, not unlike practitioners of those noble professions, I feel like I know a little about video games.
So, I’m tainted. Is that my fault, or the movie’s fault, or what? I don’t know, but I can tell you that one of the main plot points of the movie became difficult for me to accept because of it. I know, that makes me sound like an unimaginative schmuck who has a problem suspending his disbelief. Hear me out, though, and I think you’ll be with me. Before I get into that, let’s talk about one of the best things about eXistenZ, which is that it’s one of the few movies ever made about virtual reality that don’t deserve to be shot into space during the cultural revolution that will no doubt accompany a Trump presidency.
In both film and reality, VR generally requires bulky or otherwise inconvenient accessories. But imagine a world where instead of donning a pair of goggles, you could just close your eyes, and you were there - like a dream? Well, that’s a whole new ball of wax, and I’ll give eXistenZ credit for being a film that manages to comment on technology without actually being about technology in any way. I guess what gets under my skin is the approach, and there’s a reason I’m using that metaphor. Proceed only if you don’t mind having a USB port at the base of your spine that’s just big enough for Jude Law to stick his tongue into.
eXistenZ happens in a world that looks like ours, and I’m guessing smells like ours. But it doesn’t sound or operate at all like our universe. Case in point - the film opens on the unveiling of the world’s most anticipated new game, called “eXistenZ”. But it doesn’t take place at CES, or even in the parking lot of a Best Buy or after hours at a Radio Shack. No, it takes place in what looks like a disused Presbyterian church with a complete lack of press and a level of security best described as “hipster squad”. This is important, because the guest of honor at the event is Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), designer of the game, and cash cow for the publisher, Antenna Research.