26 January 2004 | peter_vangoethem
an existential psychotropic trip
David Cronenberg, much like colleague David Lynch, is an acquired taste. A director who plays with themes like reality, perversion, sex, insanity and death, is bound to get the most extreme reations from audiences. He proved this with films as The Fly, Naked Lunch, Crash and eXitenZ (capital X, capital Z) and more recently, Spider. It's best to see eXistenZ with a clear mind. Try not to read too much about the plot, or it'll be ruined for you. What I can tell you is that Cronenberg takes you on a trip down into the world of videogames that acts as a metaphor for any kind of escapist behaviour. Living out fantasies is something people always dream of, but how far can you go into it, before reality gets blurred and the fantasy takes over and turns into a nightmare? Those are the themes touched in eXistenZ, an exploration of identity, the human psyche, physical bodies being invaded by disease and most importantly, reality itself.
The story and directing are excellent. Cronenberg knows his trade very well and succesfully brings to life an artificial world, avoiding the usual pitfalls and clichés linked to stories such as this. The film shows some pretty disgusting stuff, but is unusually low-key in the gore department in comparison to Cronenbergs other work. The shock effects he plays on are never over the top and the plot progression is very intelligent and creative. It's not the most intellectual movie ever, but it will leave you thinking about it, wondering and pretty confused.
The acting gets two thumbs up as well. Both protagonists, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law, play their parts perfectly and cleverly portray their character's shifting moods and identities. The dialogue may seem a little stale and clinical at times, but that is part of the effect Cronenberg was going for, to create a disaffected and alien atmosphere that puts you quite at unease. Supporting actors as Ian Holm, Don McKellar and an especially creepy Willem Dafoe lift the movie even higher with their disturbingly familiar performances.
This movie takes some getting used to, but if you can appreciate the dark tone, blood-curdeling imagery and existentially warping story, you'll love it.