eXistenZ (1999) Review

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eXistenZ (1999)

Directed & Written by David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe

Running time: 97 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.

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My Opinion:

I’d call myself a David Cronenberg fan although there are quite a few movies of his from recent years that I haven’t seen. Looking at everything he’s directed, all my favorites are from 1979 to 1986. This is when he was at his body horror best and I far preferred that style to the more realistic violence of things like A History Of Violence (although it’s a good film). I suppose that’s why I haven’t gotten around to watching more of his post-1986 movies. 1999’s eXistenZ is a return, somewhat, to the older Cronenberg that I like best. It’s certainly not as good as The Fly, Videodrome, The Brood, etc, but I did enjoy it and it’s made me want to try harder to watch the rest of his films that I’ve not seen.

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I find that a lot of these older “virtual reality” movies don’t really age well. That sort of thing is so much more advanced than we’d have thought possible even back in 1999 so, although it may have been groundbreaking at the time(?), that side of things isn’t as impressive when watching this for the first time in 2015. Just like Snow Crash was a great book in 1992 but it’s weird that they’re choosing to make it into a film now (although I’m really anxious to see if they manage to do a good job with that one!). Can I just say that I think it should be a law or something that any cyberpunk film being made nowadays should have a score by Daft Punk? Yes, I did like TRON: Legacy more than a lot of people seemed to. πŸ˜‰ Hey – since I’m totally off track now (I’ll get back to eXistenZ in a minute), can someone please tell me the name of a horror movie I caught part of on cable in maybe 1996/1997 or so where these teenagers were being killed inside a video game? No, I can’t even name any of the actors in it. I’ve been trying to find out what that movie was for years now… Okay – back to eXistenZ!

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I didn’t hate Jude Law in this! I mean, I didn’t love him but he was totally tolerable. I also thought Jennifer Jason Leigh was very good – I’ve always thought she was a bit of an odd one but this role really “fit” her. Maybe she should have done more strange films like this one? And I loved her hair! I liked the partially crimped thing she had at first and then how it was fully done while in the virtual world. I know I sound like a girly girl going on about a hairstyle but, looking back on how this movie ended, I’m thinking the hair is kind of important to figuring out what the hell is going on… Amiright?! Probably not but, if I watch this again, I’m going to watch her hair more closely throughout it. I thought she was really pretty in this, actually – I never really thought that about her. I’d have to say this is my favorite role of hers now.

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The story in eXistenZ first felt pretty straightforward, then was a bit all over the place Cronenberg-style, then the ending felt a bit “really? that’s it?! I could have guessed that but it seemed too simple!”. But maybe it’s NOT that simple? I suppose it’s one of those movies that could do with a second (or third) viewing to fully understand what’s going on but I often like to think there’s more to movies than there really is. I’m sure I missed some symbolism (other than the usual, obvious vaginal thing that Cronenberg loves, this time in the form of a “port” in people’s lower backs that they use to link directly into Leigh’s virtual reality game. with a cord that looks like a cross between an umbilical cord & a penis, of course!). It was pretty gross, actually. I loved it! Very Cronenberg. As was a very cool “gun” made out of bones & human teeth.

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There are several big names in this so it was surprising that they all had pretty small roles (Ian Holm, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe). They’re not necessarily unimportant roles but Law & Leigh are in it the most by far, so it’s good that they worked really well for the film & had a good chemistry. Perhaps it’s why this film isn’t as big as some of Cronenberg’s others, though, as the two main stars weren’t exactly big names compared to other films he’d done (Law is more famous now than I remember him being in 1999). Plus, they’re a bit younger and they’re attractive so it almost feels like this movie is aimed more at a younger generation but I don’t think a young audience (early twenties) will have gone for this movie as it’s far too “strange” for a time when American Pie was the big movie of the year. (I’m not trashing American Pie – I like that one too).

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Anyway, eXistenZ passed me by at the time (as I think it did a lot of other people) but, although it’s not as good as Cronenberg’s very best, it’s still of a similar sort of style to his best films and I enjoyed it. There’s just enough “WTF?” and “that’s kind of disgusting” moments to keep Cronenberg fans happy but I’d probably only recommend this one to his fans.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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42 thoughts on “eXistenZ (1999) Review

  1. I am also a big Cronenberg fan and like you I prefer his older, weirder movies. So I was pretty psyched for eXistenZ in ’99. Jude Law was still a star on the rise and Jennifer Jason Leigh was an indie goddess. How can you NOT love JJL? (WTHH to her anyway? http://lebeauleblog.com/2012/09/30/what-the-hell-happened-to-jennifer-jason-leigh/ πŸ˜‰

    Back when this movie came out I angered a few people by recommending it to them. I compared it with The Matrix which had similar themes but a lot more wire fu. Looking back, I can see why liking The Matrix might not equate to liking eXistenZ, but I still thought it was a very kicky movie. Odds are most Cronenberg fans have already seen it by now. But I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes trippy movies.

    I never did pick up on JJL’s hair as a plot point. I’ll have to watch for that next time.

    • Lol! Yeah…. This is one of those I wouldn’t recommend to regular, non-movie blog people. πŸ˜‰ Like the people I work with… They think I’m weird enough for some of the movies I like! Lol. Glad to see there are other fans of this one. πŸ™‚ I don’t know – I always thought JJL was a bit odd, even in Fast Times. But I really liked her in this one. πŸ™‚

  2. I really enjoyed this flick and would put it alongside other Cronenberg favorites. Having game machine pods that went inside your body was very much like his early style I also liked how you never understood if you were in the virtual world or not. I do thnk a score from Daft Punk would make this a better movie. Hey I liked Tron Legacy too, but mainly for the music

    • Hey Vern – I’m glad to find other fans of this film! I still have to check out your review of Crash – I’m way behind on the blogs this week! I’ll check that out later after I catch up on comments. πŸ™‚ Yes! I loved that Daft Punk score! Definitely liked TRON Legacy more because of it. And I enjoyed eXistenZ more than I was expecting to for a later Cronenberg. πŸ™‚

  3. I *think that movie you’re looking for is called Brainscan and, if I remember correctly, it was awful. I think I saw that on TV when I still lived with my mom…. remember picture tube TVs???

  4. Great review of a cult classic ahead of its time. The umbilical cord gaming port kinda parallels our birth, begging the question if we are born into virtual world, a la TheMatrix.

    Another classic body horror, if you have the guts, is Tetsuo: the Iron Man. It’s black and white craziness from Japan.

    • Thanks! πŸ™‚ I’m thinking I may have Tetsuo somewhere. But… Possibly on videotape, so I don’t currently have a way of playing it. Although I’m not sure if I have the guts – I really am a wuss! Lol πŸ™‚

      • Lol. I can’t say I’ve seen TOO much beyond Cronenberg. πŸ˜‰ And I stay mainly mainstream on the blog most of the time but have far more fun reviewing lesser known films. πŸ™‚ Think the only other body horror films I reviewed were From Beyond & Society (I have a thing for Society. Lol).

  5. This was the first Cronenberg movie I saw, many many years ago, and I kinda loved it. Watched it again earlier this year and, while I still liked it, I think you’re right about the “is that it?” ending. It almost blew my mind when I was a teen (“what’s real? What’s the game? OMG!!!”), but now I think it’s largely pretty straightforward.

    The bone gun really is cool though.

  6. Big Cronenberg fan myself. He’s really the only genre director of his generation I can think of whose recent work has been consistently good – if not great. Really enjoyed ‘Maps to the Stars’ – as it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I’d love to see him return to his Body Horror roots some day – but for me – I’m just happy he’s still making films of consistent quality with things to say.

    • Yeah – I really need to give more of his recent films a watch. I’ve not seen Maps to the Stars. I definitely prefer the older body horror stuff but A History Of Violence was good. I’ll try to watch more of his stuff. πŸ™‚

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