Friday, February 11, 2011

eXistenZ vs Inception and Avatar

After watching Inception, I had this urge to revisit David Cronenberg's 1999 film eXistenZ. I only remembered that I had really liked it, especially Jennifer Jason Leigh, and that it was about gamers trapped in a highly articulated game world.

If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you do. It is much closer to Brazil for creation of its own world. As far as cinematography and a critique of the morality of living in a virtual world, it is much better than either Inception or Avatar. And it does it on a significantly lower budget (not just because it was filmed in Canada!).

The plot is this: a group of people are invited to play the latest game by designer Allegra Geller. They play by downloading the game through her perverse, fleshy game module, which they connect to via a bioport they've had injected in their spinal columns. When the test is disrupted by a would-be assassin, Allegra and marketing trainee Ted Pikal go on the run. They then port themselves in and play her game to see if the world or game has been damaged.

The world of the film and of the game is beautifully realized. It is itself both limited as one would expect a video game architecture to be and also full of fleshy perversions, like the umbillical-style cord that plugs into the bioport, which the characters keep licking before they insert them. If you're squeamish about penetration, you're gonna squirm watching this film.

The plot in the game also works pretty much like a game plot would-- they have to say certain lines to trigger a response from key characters and advance through the game, and they're "rewarded" when they complete a task. In the end there is kind of a winner.

I'm not sure why this movie wasn't better received when it came out. I do remember watching it in a Joliet, Illinois, movie theater with a smile on my face the entire time, completely entertained. I certainly did not have that experience in either Inception or Avatar.

Also, this role is part of my favorite arc in Jude Law's career. It's interesting to note that he's was in three of these dystopian virtual/real films at the turn of the century. The first, and by far the best, was Gattaca (1997), about a dystopian world created by genetic engineering. The second was this film in 1999, and then he had a key role as the plastic toy-boy Gigolo Joe in Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). He is fantastic in this role, the perfect reluctant game-player who nonetheless wants to win.

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