Thursday, November 24, 2005

eXistenZ

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There are some kind of movies which let you question your own reality after you've seen them. eXistenZ is a perfect example of these kind of films. And I am not only saying that because I am an huge David Cronenberg fan, which I am! I was ordering my movie collection and then decided to watch it again. I'd seen it 8 or 9 times already, but anyway. Actually eXistenZ is not his best movie, it's more or less "Cronenberg For Beginners". But I like it anyway, it's one of my favourites.

The best description for eXistenZ would be "reality inside a reality inside a reality inside a reality inside a..." or "game inside a game inside a game inside a...". That's why after seeing eXistenZ you start to wonder: In which reality are we at any certain moment? Is there any other reality outside of our perception? If there is any other reality, how real it is? Yes, some directors doesn't let you enjoy your own reality for a moment and makes you question :-).. Unfortunately when eXistenZ came out (1999), it was highly compared with The Matrix, which was released in the same year (strange enough another movie about alternative realities, The 13th Flour was also released in 1999). Well, this is unfair because The Matrix is nothing more than an Hollywood blockbuster movie filled with revolutionary special FXs and some religious-philosophical-(pseudo)intellectual thema's. If The Matrix is McDonald's (which it is) then eXistenZ is a delicious French dish!

In fact eXistenZ is a kind of road map to existentialist philosophy. That's why it deals with much deeper existential, philosophical subjects in a -visually- simple and different way. You can see lots of references to the ideas of Arthur Schoppenhauer [world is will and representation, created with a huge human condition] and Martin Heidegger [the vital fact that human beings truly exist, in the fullest sense, only when being-there for them-selves (Da-sein: you are there). Properly understood, self-awareness leads to the authenticity of a life created out of nothing, in the face of dread, by reference only to one’s own deliberate purposes]. You can also hear the echoes of Jean Baudrillard's simulation and hyperreality theories in this movie [hyperreality is more real than reality]. Besides, the merging of human body with technology, its metamorphosis through an organic technology may be a typical David Cronenberg element, but shows lots of traces of Marshall McLuhan's theories as well [computers are extension of human consciousness. Like telephone is an extention of the ear, television is an extention of the eye, telegram is an extention of the central nervous system, high-tech virtual reality is an extention of human consciousness]. This is a kind of movie that you should watch with great attention.

If you are familiar with Cronenberg movies, you can see his passion for 50's cinematography through eXistenZ. The story plays in a near future but visual side of the film gives us a some kind of artificial feeling, of course it's very logical for a movie about "virtual reality" and "virtual" video games. The names of locations, packaging etc. in the movie are very general. A motel simply called Motel, a gas station Gas Station, a motive which is broadly used in the movie. Everything in the film is generic not specific (these are the suggestions to game packaging). A lot of things in the movie was done for kind of alternate future, but the visual character of the film also creates an artificial atmosphere. There is a certain minimalism, ‘Reality’ is subtraction: there are no TV sets, no screens, no telephones, no computers, no watches or jewellery, no stripes, dots or patterns on the clothes, no suits, no ties etc. That makes the film bit cartoonesque and artificial (this is also kind of suggestion to the video game world’s incompleteness). One small detail for the trivia lovers: The Perky Pat packaging in the motel room scene is a reference to “The Days of Perky Pat”, a short story by famous science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Most of his novels were about alternate realities, he was the quintessential practitioner of `is there really a ‘real’ reality?’

Another significant part of the films is its opening critics. Long, slow opening sequences and the visual elements, biological textures, tissues, colors, the bio-centric imagery suggest a small planet with its own ecosystem. The rhythm of the soundtrack and synchronisation with these imagery creates a dreamlike, hypnotic atmosphere which invites the audience to the hypnotic state of the movie. With these scenes the director already tries to give an idea about the movie. Together with the first scene of the movie, the presentation of the game eXistenZ (which is almost theatrical, somehow anti-cinematic), we already get an artificial feeling. This is also a very strong clue for the audience that this is an artificial world, which is the main subject of the movie (Some critics explain the 12 chairs and players on the stage at the beginning as a reference to The Last Supper, but according to Cronenberg it was accidental). From the beginning I had always associations with creation. By the way; the name eXistenZ has a special meaning. Besides being a reference to existentialism, the letters X and Z are chosen capital letters not only for visual reasons, but the word ‘isten’ between these capital letters means “God” in Hungarian!..

But this reference to 'a creator' is not a coincidence of course. Cronenberg also examines the role of an artist (a creator), his/her relation with his/her creation. The game developer Allegra Geller plays this 'artist' role in the movie. In the movie Allegra is presented as a charmer, seductive, hypnotist. She symbolises the seductive character of an artist, seducing his/her audience. She offers ‘freedom’ and liberation to her audience (game players and Ted Pikul). That’s why the seductive part is beyond sexuality. But this is a very fine detail which is not easy to realize. But eXistenz is a multi layered movie, there many other elements as well which are easy to miss!

SPOILER!!! Anybody who didn't see this movie yet, stop reading now... Actually, I don't care, read it if you want

At the end of the movie we realize that all movie itself is a virtual game called TranCendenZ. Then we realize that, actually we have been in a 4 levels 'game':
  1. The game itself, eXistenZ, which is played in the very beginning of the movie.
  2. Allegra and Ted's small eXistenZ game which they played in the ski chalet (let's say mini-eXistenZ)
  3. The Micropod variation of eXistenZ, embedded in mini game, played by Ted and Allegra, where they went to the Chinees Restaurant (I call it micro-eXistenZ).
  4. At the end of the movie, the real focus group playing the game TranCendenZ, which is the all movie itself!
If you look at backwards:
micro-eXistenZ > mini-eXistenZ > eXistenZ > TranCendenZ

This connection between the name of eXistenZ and TrancendenZ (and the corporations of these games, Antenna and PilgrImage!) brings us closer to the idea of religion (literally meaning and connection between the words. Video games -Virtual Reality- becomes a religion, we are one level above to another layer -or reality! Also radical, fundamental belief of any kind is exist as a subthema through the movie –Cronenberg's interview with Salman Rushdie was an inspiration source for eXistenZ. This is perfectly coupled to the idea of "a creation of a creator (an artist) can come back and hunt you". This is also something which William Burroughs was obsessed on– It's also -for me- quiet metaphorical to see this transition between eXistenZ and TranCendeZ, as a clue for the neverending philosophical discussions about existence itself!

Great movie, a cyber fiction for a post-humanity!

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4 Noises:

At Thursday, November 24, 2005 4:25:00 PM, Anonymous :) said...

do you also have "gattaca" in your collection?
(b.t.w.: you mentioned the "fundamental belief" - ha, there`s the fundamentalism ....)

 
At Thursday, November 24, 2005 5:45:00 PM, Blogger . nothing . said...

No, I don't have Gattaca in my collection -yet!. I've seen it, it's a fine movie, but didn't move me as a science fiction, although it raises some nice questions about being 'human'. But I liked the cinematography in that movie, they visualised very subtle, futuristic.. future!.

About that fundamentalism... I think there is more fundamentalism in my character than I assume:-)

 
At Friday, November 25, 2005 4:26:00 PM, Anonymous :9 said...

right, the pictures in gattaca were highly "aesthetic", like a lot of "posters". fabulous light + colors.
- b.t.w., that was my problem with eXistenZ, . I didn`t like the pictures, cause it reminded me of a beta-movie a bit .... (at least the beginning, as far as i remeber).

 
At Friday, November 25, 2005 9:55:00 PM, Blogger . nothing . said...

This simple visual aspect of eXistenZ (being a kind of beta-movie) is done for a reason, Cronenberg was very conscious about it. As I wrote, he is very much interested in 50's films. But for eXistenZ it was necessary to create this kind of artificial scenery because of the concept of the film. It might not be -visually- appealing or groundbreaking (Cronenberg already done that with his other movies, especially with Naked Lunch) but I think it makes eXistenZ different than the other, visually bombastic, science fiction movies. And personally I like that beta-movie feeling very much, the only problem with eXistenZ is that it's too close to be a master piece but it misses it with a few steps (visually and story wise). It's somewhere between a cult and a mainstream movie (much closer to a cult film actually), as I said "Cronenberg For Beginners". It's a grown up version of Cronenberg's earlier masterpiece Videodrome but not as good as that one unfortunately.

Hmm, maybe I should write a critic about Videodrome...

 

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