David Cronenberg's self-reflexive dive into virtual reality gaming makes its debut on Blu-ray
In the late 90s, sci-fi films tended towards the philosophical. Alex Proyas released his futuristic noir Dark City, and the Wachowskis changed mainstream cinema with The Matrix. Both were steeped in Platonist ideas, asking us to question our reality. Then came a strange beast – eXistenZ, from David Cronenberg, which sought to tackle similar themes.
It remains one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films – it's certainly the least odd of his work from this period. It’s a sci-fi that gently pokes at the soft tissues of your brain but doesn’t ask too much of you compared to his earlier, and thematically richer, mindbenders such as Videodrome and Naked Lunch.
Allegra Geller (Jason Leigh) is the world’s leading virtual reality game designer. During a demonstration of her new product, she's shot at by an assassin wielding a strange organic gun. Surviving the shooting, Allegra and her newfound bodyguard Pikul (Law) flee to the countryside. Away from civilisation, Allegra convinces Pikul that they must play her game – a choice that plunges them further and further away from reality.
The world of eXistenZ is full of Cronenbergian fleshy oddities, ranging from the placenta-like games consoles to the infamous ‘gristle gun’. Yet the world he creates in eXistenZ is his least immersive to date. More interesting is his critique of what games and other forms of media do to our lives – an issue still pertinent today.
eXistenZ remains something of a curio that entertains rather than provokes – unlike, say, Crash. Born of an original concept from Cronenberg, it feels more like a collection of intriguing ideas rather than a cohesive whole.
This new Blu-ray (the film’s debut on the format) offers up some additional benefits, best of which is a documentary featuring Cronenberg’s long-term production designer Carol Spier, who offers an insightful perspective on the director’s wider body of work. [Joseph Walsh]
Released by 101 Films