Virtual Body Horror: An eXistenZ Retrospective - Raindance


With the recent rise in popularity of virtual reality gaming lets take a look at a film that touched on this new form of entertainment almost two decades ago.

eXistenZ is a 1999 Canadian science fiction film written, produced and directed by David Cronenberg. The film stars Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh and features Willem Dafoe and Ian Holm in supporting roles. eXistenZ looks at our relationship with technology in a near future setting. It deals with the nature of reality as well as a good dose of body horror.

I wanted to take a look back at eXistenZ because I feel it is one of Cronenberg’s lesser known and somewhat under appreciated films. I have talked to many people, including self-proclaimed Cronenberg fans that have never seen the film. It is one of the few films that uses virtual reality gaming as a major plot point and being release the 1999 it was way ahead of its time.

The film follows Ted Pikul played by Jude Law, a mild mannered man who gets caught up in a surreal plot to kill the world’s most famous game designer, Allegra Geller, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. After an assassin tries to kill Allegra at a game event to reveal her newest virtual reality game, Ted is tasked with protecting her and getting her to safety. While on the run they embark on an odyssey through Allegra’s virtual world, they encounter strange and dangerous characters and odd scenarios mimicking those in happening in reality. Soon the line between the game and the real world begin to blur for Ted and Allegra.

Technophobia is a major element in the film as well as there being a religious undercurrent throughout. Allegra Geller seems to be regarded as some sort of messiah to her fans and followers and some sort of false prophet or anti-Christ to her enemies, “Death to the demoness Allegra Geller” is a recurring quote in the film. The film ends ambiguously, leaving the audience asking how much of it was actually a game?

eXistenZ is a unique film due to it’s subject matter. There have been a number of other films that have dealt with virtual worlds suck as The Matrix, Tron, Total Recall but most of them don’t really focus on the video game aspect of virtual worlds. eXistenZ is unique in this respect.

Aside from it being filmed in Toronto I couldn’t find much information about the production of eXistenZ but it is without a doubt one of my favourite films. It has a unique plot, great practical special effects and some surprising twists and turns along the way. I highly recommend this great Canadian film to any video game or science fiction fan or anyone just looking for an interesting film to watch. You can check it out right now on iTunes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you think are some other films that dealt with subject matter that was ahead of it’s time.