I met David Cronenberg in Toronto when he was filming Dead Ringers and he and the Millennium sound people were using the same mixing studio. He seemed like a nice guy. You’d never suspect he made those gooey, ghastly movies where heads exploded and flesh was creepily malleable. Since Alien there is a sub-specialty of SFX that I call meat sculpture. Remember the scene where they dissect the first-stage critter that had attached itself to the guy’s face? We’d never seen anything like that before. Now, with plastics and actual meat, movie-makers can do some pretty amazing things, and not all of it is stuff you really want to see. There’s a lot of that in eXistenZ, and it’s about the only stuff of interest here.
It’s about virtual reality games, where you plug in to an organic brain module and go on adventures. But what’s real, if reality can’t be distinguished from games? (I have to mention here that I wrote a silly little short story called, unimaginatively enough, “Virtual Reality,” that explored the same theme. Layer upon layer of reality.) Here, it’s telegraphed that things are not what they seem when the characters in the “real” world pull up to a place called “Country Gas Station.” Right, like anyone calls their place of business that. I’d insert a spoiler warning here, but if you haven’t caught on to what the ending will be by the first 30 minutes you’re too dumb to need one, you’ll just forget all about it in ten minutes. So the movie “ends” … and then it ends again, as we find out all the preceding was just a game. And then it ends again … or does it? Remember the end of The Blob? The frozen creature is parachuted into the Arctic, and we see the words THE END. And then a big question mark? That’s okay in a fun little dumb drive-in movie, but I expected better from Cronenberg.
Oh, yeah, one final note. A plot point is that the game designer has only one copy of her game, and it just got fried in her organic game blob. And Lee said, “Didn’t she back it up?” Roger Ebert asked the same question. So did I. Idiot plot … but of course it was only a game.