Videodrome for Pussies: Existenz
Let me preface this chapter of the ongoing Cronenberg saga with a few choice words: Existenz is a shit film and a titanic fucking failure. It is creatively, developmentally and otherwise a massive misstep and the making of this film was, I believe, down to a loss of confidence from the usually assured Canadian after the critical and commercial mauling Crash received. It’s as if he returned to his earlier lauded work and produced a milquetoast, watered down, inept version of his earlier nightmarish Videodrome for purely misplaced commercial reasons. As such, Existenz is nuetered, boring, irrelevant and a complete waste of time for both film-maker and viewer.
I can’t get over how enormously fucking lame Existenz is. Seriously, it’s lamer than a quadriplegic. I remembered mildly disliking it and considering it to be a bit pointless, all in all, but this time out having only seen Videodrome a couple of months before enduring this tripe, I watched it with mounting anger and frustration. This is such an utter waste of time and effort, that it actively angered me. I doubt very much if that was the reaction Cronenberg was aiming at, and I do see that Existenz won some awards and whatnot, but this really is not the film for me.
Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Allegra Geller, an allegedly visionary game designer (although she seems to be completely fucking clueless) who survives an assassination attempt at a demonstration of her new “game” Existenz. Jude Law plays marketing trainee Ted Pikul, who becomes entrusted with her safety. For some reason or other, they end up having to test the game and falling down the Rabbit hole to “Existenz” where nothing or everything could be real. The film ends on a ludicrous and unconvincing cop-out, with the final twist being both hugely predictable and massively irritating.
To start with- the acting in this is mediocre to bad. Leigh manages to be incredibly annoying as Geller (her constant badgering of Ted to play her shitey game becomes tiresome very, very quickly). Law (an actor I strongly dislike) is his usual clueless and useless screen presence. The supporting cast, including some genuine heavyweights such as Ian Holm and Willem Defoe are completely and utterly wasted. The big problem, though, is that for Existenz to be effective you need someone with the obsessed mania of say, James Woods. Neither Law or Leigh have it in them to put in the necessary performance. Leigh, back in her Single White Female days, probably could, but Geller is meant to be the guide to Existenz and is therefore not allowed to. Law, on the other hand, is the real problem with the acting- he’s the Woods character that gets sucked into an alternative world and becomes gradually more and more obsessed etc. The required performance is completely beyond Law, and as a result Pikul is merely a petulant and annoying little bitch.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Existenz is a confused and irritating mess. For a start, the game itself is possibly the worst fucking game ever conceived. Cronenberg clearly didn’t understand the point of games, or VR, and as such he dreamed up a game where the flaming characters plug themselves in and then get to do such exciting things as work gutting frogs on an assembly line. There is no sense of wonder to Existenz, no sense of joy and as such it is completely inconceivable that anyone would willingly play it, let alone become obsessed with it. I admit that this is partially down to the twist ending, but the sole sense of wonder in the film is provided by a two-headed lizard. Videodrome was a sultry and intoxicating experience, that challenged and twisted Woods’ already susceptible sleazy bastard. Pikul, however, is actively anti-gaming. He’s not pushing his personal boundaries, or forcing himself to confront demons, he’s just uninterested. Therefore, it is utterly inconceivable that he would be remotely interested in something as totally dull as Existenz. He just wouldn’t, and Law’s cretinous and uninquisitive version of Pikul, especially, would not even give it the time of day.
Furthermore, the twist ending is hugely predictable, it is signposted by the two-headed monster, and the teeth gun and other touches, but the big give away is that Geller, allegedly the sole creator and Existenz-maestro, hasn’t a fucking clue what’s going on when they’re “playing” (I can’t think of a word for what they’re actually doing) Existenz. Again, as a result of this, Cronenberg didn’t know where the hell he was going so abruptly stops the action, just when it’s getting interesting, and has Geller proclaim herself to be “The Winner”, before revealing the film’s big twist. It’s just terrible. Furthermore, there are touches of Geller complaining about some of the characters that she, apparently, created that suggest that she does know every line of code in it. So which is it?
There are some nice Cronenberg images such as the bioport and the games pod, and the odd vomit inducing image (Law’s back absorbing the interface or eating the dinner in the Chinese Restaurant), but even these touches are bland and pointless compared to the epic Stomach Vagina in Videodrome. The insertion of the back plug visually suggests sodomy, but this potentially interesting idea is hastily backed away from. As for the pods themselves, they glisten and shiver in a revolting sexual manner (particularly when being suggestively stroked by Leigh), however, this interesting idea is also not particularly investigated.
Overall, I do not recommend Existenz at all. I do recommend Videodrome, but this is just such a colossal failure of a movie that I struggle to think of redeeming features. It’s ill-conceived, redundant and almost entirely pointless. The only possible purpose of Existenz, in my opinion, is to serve as a warning to any hack out there stupid enough to attempt to remake Videodrome- don’t do it. If Cronenberg himself couldn’t do it, then you bastards don’t stand a chance. Overall I give it an extremely generous 1 Chang.
Next up is another stinker: the coma-inducing Spider. Thankfully, though, it’s the last one of the second shit period.
It’s been real, as opposed to Existenz-tial,
The order so far