eXistenZ (1999)

While the rest of the world was losing their mind over The Matrix, David Cronenberg quitely released this movie, a tale of alternate realities that is a way bigger idea inside a way smaller movie.

Sometime in the future, Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics are in a war with one another to make the latest and greatest games for their biotech virtual reality game consoles. These game pods are living and breathing creatures that have UmbyCords that directly connect into anus-appearing bio-ports on the users’ spines.

If you read that paragraph and don’t say, “What?” then this is the movie for you.

The cold war between these two companies is only increasing, where a religious group called the Realists fights for people to stop deforming the nature of reality.

Antenna Research’s game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is showing off her latest game called eXistenZ when one of those Realists tries to murder her with an organic gun. Her security guard and publicist Ted Pikul (Jude Law) rescues her and together, they go from fixing the broken pod to inserting it into Law’s body to continually going deeper and deeper into the game.

Exactly when the game starts and ends is up to the viewer, but along the way you’ll be treated to more twists, turns and red herrings than several giallo, as well as an astounding setpiece where a disgusting living Chinese appetizer is transformed into a biomechanical weapon.

Inspired by an interview he did with Salman Rushdie, Cronenberg worked with Christopher Priest — who wrote* the novel that The Prestige is based on — to come up with this story. And if you’re wondering, “Is the title just wacky 90’s spelling of things?” The answer is yes and no. The truth is that in Hungarian, the word isten means God, so it’s a play on words. This was also Cronenberg’s first original script since Videodrome, a movie that this has plenty in common with.

And yes, this is totally a cyberpunk film despite not having Ministry on the soundtrack or rock stars in the cast. That’s because the fast food that the main characters eat comes from a restaurant called Perky Pat, a direct reference to Phillip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

*Priest also wrote the novelizations for Short Circuit and Mona Lisa.

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