eXistenZ - * * 1/2*

Virtual Reality is a hot film topic these days, and with his latest film eXistenZ, writer-director David Cronenberg gives his take on the subject. While not a film for the squeamish (not many of his films are), eXistenZ proves to be an intriguing examination on the nature of reality.

The film begins with a spelling lesson. The title is “eXistenZ”, not “Existenz”. This is explained to a marketing group which will be the first to test the so-titled virtual reality game. As an extra bonus, the game’s famous and reclusive designer, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), will lead the test herself.

Allegra is reclusive for a good reason. A group of “realists”, who oppose the concepts of virtual reality, have marked her for death. No place is safe, and soon Allegra is on the run with her “protector”, a trainee named Ted Pikul (Jude Law).

And that is when things truly start to get strange. Allegra and Ted decide to play eXistenZ themselves, looking for damaged code. But, as they continue to play, the lines between reality and virtual reality begin to blur. What is real and what is just a game?

Not content with the wires and electronics that typically come to mind when one thinks of virtual reality, Cronenberg envisions a future of computing composed entirely of organic technology. Instead of cabling, machines use umbillical cords. Instead of keyboards, unidentifiable organs. Even the guns of the future are made of bone and gristle. It ain’t pretty, but its certainly innovative.

The film certainly has attracted an outstanding supporting cast. Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Eccleston and Sarah Polley are a few of those who drift in and out of Allegra and Ted’s experiences. Even though their characters never amount to much, the cast give their all and make their roles fun, if not deep.

eXistenZ is well thought out…to a point. At the end of the film, everything finally seems to click together and make a cohesive whole. Yet, at the end things are vaguely unsatisfying. Many of the characters throughout seem like flimsy constructs, but on the other hand, that’s what some of them are supposed to be. Still, a movie that gives so much effort shouldn’t feel this substanceless.

Fetishistic and disgusting at times, complicated yet lightweight at others, eXistenZ is an unusual film to be sure, but one that is mostly worth the trip.

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