Taglines: Play or be played.
Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the leading game designer in the world, is testing her new virtual reality game, eXistenZ with a focus group. As they begin, she is attacked by a fanatic assassin employing a bizarre organic gun. She flees with a young marketing trainee, Ted Pikul, who is suddenly assigned as her bodyguard.
Unfortunately, her pod, an organic gaming device that contains the only copy of the eXistenZ game program, is damaged. To inspect it, she talks Ted into accepting a gameport in his own body so he can play the game with her. The events leading up to this, and the resulting game lead the pair on a strange adventure where reality and their actions are impossible to determine from either their own or the game’s perspective.
Existenz (stylized as eXistenZ) is a 1999 Canadian science fiction body horror film written, produced, and directed by Canadian director David Cronenberg. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law. As in Videodrome, Cronenberg gives his psychological statement about how humans react and interact with the technologies that surround them, in this case, the world of video games.
The film’s plot came about after Cronenberg conducted an interview with Salman Rushdie for Shift magazine in 1995. At the time, Rushdie was in hiding due to a Fatwa being put on his life by Muslim extremists due to his controversial book The Satanic Verses. Rushdie’s dilemma gave Cronenberg an idea of “a Fatwa against a virtual-reality game designer”. Existenz was originally pitched to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but they did not green-light the film due to its complex structure.
About the Story
In the near-future, organic virtual reality game consoles known as “game pods” have replaced electronic ones. The pods are attached to “bio-ports”, outlets inserted at players’ spines, through biotechnological umbilical cords. Two game companies, Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics, compete against each other. In addition, a group of “realists” fights both companies to prevent the “deforming” of reality.
Antenna Research’s Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the world’s preeminent game designer, is testing her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ, with a focus group at a seminar. She is shot in the shoulder by an assassin named Noel Dichter (Kris Lemche) with an organic pistol, which is undetectable by security. As Dichter is gunned down by the security team, security guard (and marketing trainee) Ted Pikul (Jude Law) rushes to Geller and escorts her outside.
Geller discovers that her pod, which contains the only copy of the eXistenZ game, may have been damaged due to an “UmbyCord” being ripped out as the game was being downloaded. To test it, she must plug into the game in tandem with another player she can trust, and talks a reluctant Pikul into installing a bio-port in his own body so he can play the game with her.
Pikul, one of a dwindling few who has refused to have a bio-port installed to this point, at first objects due to a phobia about “surgical penetration”, but eventually gives in. They head to a gas station run by a black-marketeer named Gas (Willem Dafoe) to get it installed. Gas deliberately installs a faulty bio-port and the game pod is damaged. Gas (a shotgun in hand) reveals that he is going to kill Geller for the bounty on her head, but Pikul shoots him with the rivet gun used to install the port.
The pair make their way to a former ski lodge used by Geller’s mentor, Kiri Vinokur (Ian Holm). He and his assistant repair the damaged pod and give Pikul a new bio-port. Inside the game, Pikul realizes that it is hard to tell whether his or Geller’s actions are their own intentions or the game’s. When they meet D’Arcy Nader (Robert A. Silverman), a video game shop owner, Pikul speaks rudely to him but then expresses surprise at his own rudeness. Geller informs him that it was the doing of his game character.
Awards and Nominations
Berlin Film Festival
Won, Silver Bear: David Cronenberg
Nominated, Golden Bear: David Cronenberg
Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival
Won, Silver Scream: David Cronenberg
Won, Best Achievement in Editing: Ronald Sanders
Nominated, Best Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design: Carol Spier, and Elinor Rose Galbraith
Nominated, Best Motion Picture: David Cronenberg, Robert Lantos, and Andras Hamori
Golden Reel Awards
Nominated, Best Sound Editing in a Foreign Feature: David Evans, Wayne Griffin, Mark Gingras, John Laing, Tom Bjelic, and Paul Shikata
Nominated, Best Science Fiction Film (lost to The Matrix)
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Johnson
Screenplay by: David Cronenberg
Production Design by: Carol Spier
Cinematography by: Peter Suschitzky
Film Editing by: Ronald Sanders
Costume Design by: Denise Cronenberg
Set Decoration by: Elinor Rose Galbraith
Art Direction by: Tamara Deverell
Music by: Howard Shore
MPAA Rating: R for strong sci-fi violence and gore, and for language.
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Release Date: April 23, 1999