Artist’s Name: David Cronenberg
Bio on Artist: David Cronenberg is a Canadian filmmaker. He is one of the originators of the body horror genre, and has been a part of the industry since the 1960s.
Name of Topic: eXistenZ
Date of Topic: April 1999
Describe Topic: eXistenZ is movie that explores the crossover between reality and virtual reality. It puts two protagonists together, Ted and Allegra, to save game designer Allegra’s game eXistenZ. The catch is that to save the game, Allegra must play it with a friendly, where Ted is the only friendly. For Ted to play eXistenZ, though, he must have a bioport installed which leads to all kinds of problems.
Opinion of Artwork Topic:
At first I was confused by eXistenZ, because some of the dialogue seemed too self-aware or awkward. But after I got used to Cronenberg’s style I was able to get into the movie. I really appreciated the repetition of the bone-gun and the dog, and how it tied every piece of the realities, every level of the virtual realities together. It was like a thread that was able to survive recursion (computer science concept of recursion). There were some very prescient/poignant remarks that were in eXistenZ that Allegra says. The first is “You have to play the game to find out why you’re playing the game.” It can be taken as a metaphor for life, if life were a simulation (or even if it weren’t a simulation). Allegra also makes a comment about free will, saying about details that “It’s like real life – it’s just enough to make it interesting.” As a VR designer, one major element of the design for making the user do what you want to do within a specified range is make that part of the interaction most interesting. Like in the scene with the trout farm, where the contact tells Ted about the Chinese Restaurant in the middle of the forest and to order the special, Ted and Allegra aren’t going to risk not going to the Chinese Restaurant (and furthermore not ordering the special). It takes away free will by telling the player (user) what to do, but may seem like free will because it incites an inexorable curiosity to see what happens.

The way the movie was written and filmed also led for some interesting projections. In a movie such as eXistenZ, I imagine many people were, like myself, trying to figure out what was going on. After a while, and reality slips into another reality and the ‘original’ reality is to be questioned, my mind tried reconciling the depth with a bunch of different explanations. At 1 hour and 4 minutes, I had speculated that Ted was in fact a game character that had gained sentience, and as such we were following his realization that he is just a game character (a la Bioshock [2007], a la Genesis [2006], a la Aeon Flux [1991-1995]). I then thought that the main character playing the game is Allegra, and that eXistenZ was her fantasy about being a game developer, and the best and most famous game designer to boot, whose work is so special it warrants her death. Basically, eXistenZ was an indulgent fantasy of Allegra. The second more fleshed out theory I had was 15 minutes before the end of the film, where my unadulterated guess was: “Okay, I understand now – Ted and Allegra were playing the game together, and we entered the movie one level into the game. They had already submitted to the game urges that they didn’t know each other and that it’s a PR kid with no bioport and a super famous game designer.” As far as this theory goes, I was correct. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was the parallelism between Allegra’s position and the actual game designer of tranCendenZ Yevgeny Nourish. The movie pushed the continuity further and in a similar way had Ted and Allegra kill Yevgeny Nourish. It was a nice detail to flip the movie from coming off as almost pro-virtual to pro-reality. These kinds of warnings to what may happen in real life always remind me of Michael Crichton’s work.
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