The mating of games and life is a sexual dualism, and a realm that this film explores with unabashed quality. Director David Cronenberg, strikes at the vitality of this dualism a second time. While his film, Viedeodrome, dissects the media addiction of crazed viewers, eXistenZ seeks to translate the fantastical whims of gamers, and how feverish some are to depart the real world for something less tangible. I see reason as to why we start so suddenly within the game verse without knowing so, because the lines of reality and virtuality are so dim that we can’t tell the difference. But what is real? What is fantasy? If you could touch both wouldn’t that desensitize the meaning of real? Games have become more life like, more addictive, more personal. They have become change, to the point that when gamers play, they play with such ferocity that their characters are themselves, not a separate entity. Is there any reason why World of Warcraft has such a huge following? Since its birth is has only grown and spawned into one of the most well known online games in history, occupying 5.93 million hours concentrated to the mysteries of Azeroth. We spend 3 billion hours playing games a week, being plugged in and connected. We spend those priceless seconds and minutes and hours escaping what we consider real because everything has meaning in the game. It is suspended animation with predestined roads. In a world where winning is always possible, where characters can change the tide of the cyber world at any given moment, who wouldn’t want to stay? For me, eXistenZ is an analytical disambiguation of a programmed life, explaining that in order to win, you have to play along, you have to go with the flow.
The film moves slowly at first, much like a games does when obtaining a new character and plot, but the dialogue flows from shot to shot within analogs, saying just the right amount of words to establish a new directive. It’s quite hilarious, actually, the way these individuals move the story without realizing it. When awaken from a dream, a mind is alert, awake, it sends signals to every part of the body so as to announce the coming of the mind, of feeling and perception. But that’s all it is, signals. Nothing is tangible because it’s not really there, it’s just computation, a recreation of past involvement and memories. This idea is important to Cronenberg and his gaming pod. The pod latches into the wearers system, an intimate moment of sexual penetration, with a long cord and needle that inserts into a wet lubricated hole. There’s a sensation one feels, a beautiful illusion of ascension. You’re looking at your room, at your television, and suddenly, you’re somewhere else. From dream to reality back to dream again. These pods are living extensions of the body, they are the dream. Much like the character, O’Blivion, in Videodrome iterates, “The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye.” the gaming pod acts the same way. It inserts into a bio-port within the spine, manifesting hallucinations in the brain, which means that the construction of the picture is made to look more like raw material viewed for the first time, made to look more like reality, to confuse the existence. The entire mise en scene is a dream, but it is also reality, which means my watching it is also the psychosis dream or reality. Telling the difference is impossible because there is no difference.
Allegra Geller and Ted Pikul, the characters that Jude Law and Jennifer Leigh play, are two sexual animals. Allegra, the more experienced and dominant one, leads Ted on a sexual epiphany to pop his cherry of seeing the dream. The mechanizations they use to further themselves in this holographic world are their genital contrivances. They both aid each other in pleasing, granting a kind of carnal desire. I love the part when after inserting a new bio port into the spinal hole of Allegra, Ted gets the bright idea to try and lick the hole. He goes for it, tongue out, ready to entertain the beautiful center. At which point Allegra jumps away, repelled by the thought of a physical person pleasuring her euphemistic orifice. That only a machine could fulfill her needs. But it calls to Ted, there is a certain beauty to it. An unknown darkness that wants to be discovered. Similar to a child watching pornography for the first time, it’s bewildering, it’s horrifying and gratifying, and the child wants to continue this journey of the unknown.
The horror of having a live organism display images of grandeur are startling at first, but you get used to the fact that what’s fueling the creature is your own essence. That this pod is life. The plot develops as we realize that Ted and Allegra are characters playing characters, playing characters. Much like sinking into dream after dream after dream. I think this point is poignant to the entire film itself, because when we watch it we are trying to discern what exactly is real. Allegra at one point begins to inspect her environment at a gas station, touching the material, kicking dirt into the air, even she can’t believe it’s real. Existence is transcending the ordinary plane of liberation, and that is what the name of the real game is, freedom. When free we see things differently, that’s why we get used to the surroundings procured for us when we’re latched. Gaming is playing along with the natural order, it is a horror to stop playing, to give up. Our minds are alive, they direct the intentions of distilled reality, but our bodies are merely sacks of information collecting and receiving orders, pulling strings. Just as Ted and Allegra are losing sense of texture, we are losing a sense of self.
Cronenberg is a master of disturbance. He links the fearsome relation to a child with the gaming pod. We treat these fake systems, like cellphones like televisions like pods, as children, as organisms that listen when we speak, that know our hopes and whims and loves. Wires are veins that carry blood, and mainframes are networks of synapses. There is a new flesh morphing over the old. This ideology, that our technology has become so advance it’s becoming intimate in the most physical sense, that it’s developing an emotion, and that we’d rather spend our days in a simulated environment, is deeply troubling. What happens to the memories of Summer and love and relationships when they seem unreal? What happens to our conversations when they seem forced and rehearsed? These problems are the disturbing reality Cronenberg focuses on in eXistenZ through the lens of computer generated games. The pod is the brain. In a particular scene, actor Ian Holm, plays a character in which he operates on the fried pod. He opens it up and starts surgical task. I see this as neurosurgery. Where the surgeon is a manufacturer of the reality in which we share. Our brains are connected by the banality of media. In this sense, Cronenberg presents a meta physical environment in which maybe he is not even directing. The film envelops itself, directs itself, much like an excavation. So the disturbing part is not that technology is becoming more alive and synthetic, it’s that we ourselves are becoming more like machines. Cognition is forming into arrangement, not change.
The problem with games, I find, is that some believe that we can achieve more in the game world than we can in the real world. This hinders the possibility that the real world has choice and meaning, that someone can be who they want to be. Whereas in the game world, the gamer gets to customize, gets to decorate and become god-like. In the title of this film there is a word, a pun of sorts, isten. This is a Hungarian word for God, which further develops the idea that curators are celestial and the sack of life is mundane. How do we bridge the gap between these two? How do we prioritize an epic win is possible in the real world? Reality bleeds through every interval of virtuality, making life just as much interesting as we want it to be. Cronenberg is yelling at us to pay attention, to wake up from the space of dualism, to disconnect. Real life is safe and boring, but so is the fantasy life. Each has trivial pursuits attached to the mainframe, one simply has to be willing to let the other go. We are all holographic ants, so let’s make real mean something. The very last line, tell the truth, are we still in the game, is a brilliant ending. Death to realism, death to the progenitors of the display.