eXistenZ - B
Viewed April 24, 1999 at Lincoln Square

When I was watching eXistenZ, I thought the first half-hour was horrid. Never had Cronenberg's bizarre biological fixations seemed so inherently ridiculous[1] or his directing manner so coldly self-conscious -- if somebody had wanted to make a Cronenberg parody, I thought, it would look something like this. Then it dawned on me (during the Country Gas Station scene) that Cronenberg was displaying something that he's shown little of recently - a sense of humor, as he played the obvious anal sex subtext of the game "bioports" for laughs[2]. What follows is the obligatory virtual reality mindfuck material (with a most memorable Chinese restaurant dinner that manages to outdo Ravenous on the ick factor), but for the first time in years Cronenberg looks like he's having fun.[3] He mocks the reliance on CGI effects that dominate other cyberspace flicks (the single CGI effect in the movie is completely gratituous), and critics more talented than I[4] have already commented on the film's obvious parody of computer adventure games. It's not particularly deep Cronenberg -- his film is too much of a goof to be taken seriously -- but it may be his funniest film.

[1]My suspension of disbelief was tested badly by the living game pods that serve as the computer for the game of eXistenZ -- there's a resounding rubber fakiness to them that's immensely distracting. They did start to bother me less as the film went on and the film's final "surprise" removes any problems I had with it. (eXistenZ is the kind of film that has a great knack for providing rationalizations to answer such nitpicky sci-fi-wanker criticisms.)

[2]"I have a great fear of being penetrated (beat) surgically." is the single funniest line of the year (so far) in context.

[3]Note that this elaborate shaggy-dog prank of a story ends with a plot twist involving a shaggy dog.

[4]Don Marks.