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Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law;
Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe
Written and Directed by David Cronenberg

IN SHORT: Looks great. Less filling. Tilt. [Rated [R]Rated [R]]

In the last two weeks, Cranky has seen three movies that have all had "virtual reality" themes or plot elements. If you thought I was being unfair to The Matrix, for being difficult to figure out, you're probably gonna love David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. In it, confusion of reality is the story. This movie plays with your head so much, and is visually stimulating enough, that you'll follow along, waiting for a resolution which never comes. Cranky defies any of you kidlets who e-Mailed explanations of Keanu's flick to do the same for eXistenZ, which deliberately ends with a figurative question mark the size of New Jersey...

If I have to explain the difference between literal and figurative, then don't even think of writing.

Writer/director David Cronenberg has shown a real ability to mix science fiction and horror elements together, as in Scanners and The Fly, with nary a glitch. He's also shown his ability to get good performances out of actors (M. Butterfly) without the use of effects. In eXistenZ, Cronenberg has spent a lot of time and energy visualizing the not-quite-our-planet world we see, and the gaming realities inside "eXistenZ by Antenna Research" a biologically based vidgame at the center of the film.

At the center of the film's world is Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), designer of games hailed as a "goddess" by her adoring fans. To play her games you must have a "Bioport," which looks like a smaller anus, punched into the base of your spine. An umbilical cord plugs into the Bioport and a shared Gamepod, grown in the guts of mutated amphibians (and they taste like chicken!) so you can play with your friends, and it's off to the races.

Dimension Films supplied us all with a translation table, explaining what all the game elements and biological thingies were. Cranky never reads lists like those, because if it ain't clear onscreen, it ain't worth the time. Cronenberg's script is clear enough that, with your SF head screwed on, you won't have problems following the concepts. Point for DC.

Also on Allegra's world are revolutionaries who, for reasons that escape me don't think you should spend all your waking hours living in a VR game world. When one of these radicals attacks Allegra, and damages the one and only copy of the eXistenZ game, she must go into hiding and try to repair the damage to her game, which is more like a baby to her. Her protector is Ted Pikul (Jude Law), a marketer who has no Bioport. To save the day, he must plug in (courtesy a bootleg installation by a gas station attendant played by Willem Dafoe) and Allegra must get surgical help for her pod, from longtime friend Kiri Vinokur (Ian Holm). Within the world of the game is *another* world of the game (our pair go two about levels down, though I can't be sure about that because of the ending) which they must play and win, to save all of eXistenZ.

Reads real good, don't it? Ian Holm, who starred in Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, describes eXistenZ as "Naked Lunch II," which should have sent Cranky screaming towards the exits 'cuz that flick, too, was visual overkill. eXistenZ spends lots of time with graphic visuals of disemboweled mutant froggies, Bioport plug-ins and other such unpleasantness. It all generates the same queasy reactions that we get from the best of Cronenberg's work, but delivering great visuals is not the same thing as delivering a complete soup to nuts story.

Now, Cranky's not a gamer, and I'm not about to get into arguments about the nature of reality based on a movie. By the time the open end slapped me in the face, I was deep enough into the game that I literally felt cheated. Kind of like being 100 points away from a free game when the machine decides to go "tilt" on you, for no reason at all. Add to that the observation that all the characters in this movie are woefully underdeveloped, and the net result is disappointment.

Cranky didn't walk out feeling like he'd had a good time. And that means rent.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to eXistenZ, he would have paid...


Which comes out to the mid-week rental level. The honest truth? I really dislike open endings, regardless of genre. I didn't like it when I was shlepped out to My Fair Lady as a single digit kidlet. I didn't like it when Darth Vader spun off into space at the end of Star Wars (back in '77 when sequels were not common). I didn't like it here.

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2016   by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.