eXistenZ is destined to always be second choice. Looking for a David Cronenberg film that eroticises the unerotic? Your first choice is Crash; eXistenZ comes a distant second. Looking for a film that cursorily engages with videogaming culture before becoming a philosophical treatise on the nature of reality? The Matrix does that better than eXistenZ, and even has kung fu.
It’s not that eXistenZ is an utterly awful film; it’s just outclassed. Its narrative feels confused and erratic before it reveals its greater purpose in a well-executed last act twist. That twist lends eXistenZ its slender charm – it recontextualises the story, letting the film work as a meta-commentary on filmmaking. Problem is that it also provides an excuse for poor acting and mediocre storytelling; without the twist, the film has little to recommend it. Certainly not the acting, which is alternately robotic (Jude Law) and deliberately over-the-top (Willem Dafoe). There are moments where the film earns that oh-so-overused adjective visceral, as you’d expect from a mid-career Cronenberg film (eg a gun that looks like it’s been made out of a chicken carcass drenched in amniotic fluid) … but gristly special effects aren’t enough to overcome the fundamental flaws of eXistenZ.
6 thoughts on “eXistenZ (1999)”
Count me among the group that finds “The Matrix” secondary to this. My Cronenberg Chronicle touches on the reasons why. ML
Fair enough, I’ll check out your review. I thought this film had some interesting ideas (and it did look great, as you’d expect from Cronenberg) but it didn’t follow through on any of them in a way that clicked for me. Admittedly, the Matrix example was a little trite (since that film doesn’t actually care about its philosophical ideas all that much) but I think The Matrix achieves its more modest goals better than eXistenZ achieves its loftier goals… if that makes any sense.
I should mention something that I didn’t have space for in the two hundred words I allowed myself in the review – I read the tie-in novel for this years and years ago and found it really interesting in terms of its ideas. It didn’t engage with me in the same way at all watching the film recently – and I think, for me, it’s to do with context. The ideas may have been relatively fresh in 1999, but the film’s take on virtual reality and its commentary on filmmaking and its general existential stuff… like I say in the review, I just feel like I’ve seen them done better elsewhere.
Good review. I’ve always been curious about this – I like Cronenberg but never seen this one.
I think it’s a lesser Cronenberg; I’ve never regretted watching one of his films, but I’m definitely not in any hurry to see this again.
Now I remember who David Cronenberg is! Haha! Kept seeing it for an exhibit commercial…