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[Reviewed by: Alex Miller]

David Cronenberg, 1999
“You have to PLAY the game, to find out WHY you’re playing the game. “

Since my first edition of “Cult Classics” was on David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome“, it only made sense to do the next one on its spiritual sequel. Videodrome dealt with television shows that can grow tumours in your mind so that others could control you. This movie deals with video games being infused with human organs to the point where no one knows what is real anymore. In both cases, the ideas are presented in a very abstract way. And by abstract I mean of course, cancer shooting guns that mutate out of your hand (Videodrome). As well as, teeth shooting guns made out of the bones of animals genetically engineered so that their body parts can be used as weapons (eXistenZ). Still with me?

As a guy, my kneejerk reaction is to say “Awesome!”. But this movie is also very deep. Some say it is about existentialism, and while this is obviously correct, I think it says more about technology. The “Realists” in the film who battle against the game designers represent a part of ourselves that is unsure about the influence of the internet, movies, tv, video games on our lives. In effect, most of our “real” lives are now spent in a sort of technological semi-real world. Although there are some minor parallels between this film and “The Matrix”, accusations of “The Matrix” being ripped off are made only by people ignorant enough to think the Wachowski brothers actually invented this massive genre.

Now on to the title. The reason for the capitalized X and Z is that “isten” means “God” in Hungarian. Basically it is implying that by taking technology too far we are playing God. The film also borrows from themes in the book “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” by Phillip K. Dick. In the book, the video game theme is replaced by a drug called “Chew-Z”. This may be another explanation for the way the film’s title is spelled. In addition, the name takes even further meaning at the end of the film, of which I will not speak of because that would just ruin it for you. In any event, it wasn’t just a marketing attempt at sounding cool like many who haven’t seen the film accuse it of doing.

I could go on about the actors. Jude Law gives a decent performance for his best film besides “Gattaca”. William Dafoe is as amazing as usual with a sort of cameo role as “Gas”. Jennifer Jason Leigh puts on a very sexual performance and was indeed an ass-et to the film. But in the end, this movie was not about the characters, it was about the themes.

I was very disheartened to see that Aintitcool.com, a website which I admire and frequently visit, said this film was “kind of silly, and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.” They also said it, “just didn’t feel like a real movie, and I wasn’t exactly sure at the end what I had just sat through.” He is not alone in thinking this. I imagine many who see the film will be confused to the point of frustration. They may even come to the conclusion that it has no point. Those people are wrong, but it may make them feel better to say this because they don’t get the point. Cronenberg obviously anticipated such criticisms even when writing the film. This excerpt from the film is incredible:

Ted: We’re both stumbling around together in this unformed world, whose rules and objectives are largely unknown, seemingly indecipherable or even possibly nonexistent, always on the verge of being killed by forces that we don’t understand.
Allegra: That sounds like my game, all right.
Ted: That sounds like a game that’s not gonna be easy to market.
Allegra: But it’s a game everybody’s already playing.

If you can watch the movie, read that quote, and still think the movie doesn’t make any sense, you just flat-out don’t get it. If you fall into that category, I recommend you go watch “The Matrix”, have fun watching the cool bullet-time effects, and forget this review ever happened.

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  1. […] to Cinema Viewfinder for featuring our reviews of Videodrome and eXistenZ on their […]

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