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eXistenZ (1999)

A debate has raged for some time within internet circles of film and video games lovers since Roger Ebert stated, prompted by the adaptation of the classic first person shooter Doom, that video games are not art (with that movie being the subject for analysis, who can blame him?). My own personal stance is that video games are a blossoming art form, capable of such deeper emotional and intellectual capacities but little more than suave technical exercises at this point in time. Should the type of gaming depicted in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ ever come to pass, however, I think Ebert will gladly modify his stated opinion. Much like the neck-based ports used by the protagonists in The Matrix, the characters in eXistenZ hook up to their gaming units (themselves a sort of living organism, made from animal parts and organs) via spinally linked bio-ports, connecting them to the software directly through their nervous system. Experienced gamers should find much to savor through the film’s unique assessments on the nature of reality (interwoven with loving nods to video game clichés), complicated by a multi-layered plot that posits a famous software designer against radicals who want to put an end to her existentially-redefining technological labors of love. eXistenZ is viscerally and philosophically titillating in same the way that makes all of Cronenberg’s films both physically challenging and intellectually satisfying (here, in particular the sexual connotations suggested by the characters’ biological modifications), although the script isn’t willing to go nearly as far in probing the material as Cronenberg takes it with his striking visual flair. That flaw limits the film from its greater potentials, but Cronenberg certainly makes the most of the film’s intriguing opportunities.