Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

In science-fiction terms, the 1990s were surely the decade of virtual reality.

Wild Palms, The Lawnmower Man, VR.5, Doctor Who: The Paradise Of Death… I could go on and on.

It's no wonder then that in 1999 the big movie studios rushed to get their last VR movies out before the new decade arrived, bringing with it the switch-over to the environmental catastrophe genre.

The Matrix was the most obvious one in that last year. Then there was the more feel-good Thirteenth Floor. But the real underdog must surely be David Cronenberg's creatively capitalised eXistenZ.

Skipping both the fighting of The Matrix and the fluffiness of Thirteenth Floor, eXistenZ looks like a low-budget TV movie, and is so dialogue-based as to give the illusion of having been adapted from the stage. (which it wasn't)

I guess the biggest hurdle that it has to overcome is that it's set in the near future, when there are quite a few new concepts and words to take on board. Even the characters have unfamiliar names like Allegra, Kiri and Yevgeny, and that's before I even start on the surnames!

The visual effects range from the beautiful mutant insect to the embarrassing game-pods, but I found that by the end I could forgive all of the production's shortcomings, simply because of the level of thought that had gone into conceiving this world.

The film's main theme is that of virtual reality overtaking actual reality, as people increasingly choose to live in a realm that indulges them, instead of one that challenges.

Allegra's allegory has similarities to Agent Smith's reasoning that we humans need imperfection in our lives, or we just withdraw.

There's also a faction of extremists running around, who perceive the new reality as deforming the old one, and sure enough their paradoxical solution is to start killing. I don't know whether that even qualifies as a sub-text.

eXistenZ is definitely one of the better VR movies, but it sure isn't escapism.

After all, who on Earth would want to live in a creepy world like that one?

(with thanks to Herschel)

Available here.


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