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Film: eXistenZ

eXistenZ is a David Cronenberg film that combines Body Horror with Mind Screw. When you allow the Platonic Cave to mess with your emotional and mental state, how do you know who your friends really are? How do you know right from wrong, and whether you believe it...or just your character? What is real?

It is described by some as the Canadian version of The Matrix, but it involves more philosophy and less leather-clad ass-kicking.


This film provides example of:

  • Accent Relapse: Everybody.
  • Alien Lunch: A light snack of a genetically engineered frog-like amphibian whose body was designed as spare parts for the organic game-pods and also contained the parts for a Scaramanga Special bone gun.
  • All Just a Dream, and possibly a Dream Within a Dream.
  • All There in the Manual: The most iconic object from the film, the pistol made out of bones and teeth, is not named in the film. Background material reveals it's actually called the "gristle gun".
  • And You Were There
  • Big Good: Christopher Eccleston.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Isten" (the word in between the "X" and the "Z") is Hungarian for "God." Deus ex Machina (of a sort), anyone?
    • Robert Lantos, one of the film's producers, is Hungarian. It was probably a deliberate joke for him.
    • transCendenZ: "trans" is 'beyond' in Latin and "enden" is 'to come to an end' in German.
  • Bio Punk
  • Bland-Name Product: XE-60 is just a few letters and digits from WD-40.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Very subtly, the use of this trope is one of the first clues that the movie started inside a game.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: There are biological computers which interface with you through plugging a very phallic tentacle into a port in the base of your spine. The movie plays this for all it's worth, even having characters lick the ports of other characters during sex scenes.
  • Coitus Ensues: Lampshaded. The two main characters suddenly start making out for no apparent reason. Allegra tells Pikul to just go with it, as it's just a scene written into the program in order to increase the emotional intensity between them.
    • At the end it's revealed that the two were actually in a relationship to begin with, although that might have been a cover story. And they might still be in the game.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: Adapted as a graphic novel.
  • Creepy Gas Station Attendant: Played by Willem Dafoe.
  • Dialogue Tree: Made to look as awkward as they actually would in real life. Until you give a correct response, game characters just repeat the same fidgety actions. Rather than selecting the response text from a menu, player characters just "know" what the right options are.
  • Disobey This Message: Played much more intelligently than most applications of this trope, in a sort of Brechtian sense. The final scene of the movie essentially acknowledges that the whole thing is a work of fiction, and not objective truth. The real point of the film, much like Videodrome, is that we shouldn't blindly accept any messages.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: the organic game pods are strangely phallic, and plug into a port on a person's lower back. After said ports are lubricated with saliva. The pods then must be touched like controllers, and the way the characters do this looks oddly erotic.
    • Also, the whole theme of people fanatically trying to murder an artist is deliberately evocative of the life of Salman Rushdie, who is friends with Cronenberg. It's quite likely that the character of Allegra Geller ( and later, Yevgeny Nourish) is a stand-in for Rushdie. The word "fatwa" is even used explicitly.
  • Driving a Desk: used deliberately.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Willem Dafoe plays a gas station attendant, simply called "Gas".
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: ...who works at Country Gas Station. Within the game, workers at Trout Farm eat lunch at Chinese Restaurant.
  • Genre Savvy: Allegra uses this to try to dissuade Gas from killing them.
  • Hollywood Darkness: also used deliberately.
  • Mind Screw: The film is Philip K Dick-like in the mind screw department. It features a VR game within a VR game within a VR game within a VR game, the characters openly question whether they're still in the game at every level (and for bonus points, compare real-life to VR), switch sides multiple times, and reference things that happened at other levels.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup
    Allegra: In this pod is the only, the original version of eXistenZ. An entire game system that cost 38 million to develop. Not including prerelease marketing costs. And I'm locked outside my own game.
    Pikul: Are you serious? That's the only version that exists?
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Allegra comments that Robert Silverman's Irish accent is not very convincing, and that he's a generally bland character. This is in contrast to the excitable nutjobs he usually plays in Cronenberg's films.
    • More obviously, you can hear Jude Law's accent crack when he shouts. It's very obvious. But... just wait until the end of the movie.
  • Organic Technology:
    • eXistenZ runs off of little flesh computers that plug into ports in your spine. Interestingly, transCendenZ, unlike eXistenZ, runs off of conventional electronics.
    • The gristle gun, built out of bones and teeth, also works like this. Pikul assembles one out of his lunch special and a tooth bridge from his mouth.
  • The Game Never Stopped: played with several times, with characters not knowing if they are still in the game. Including in the ending.
  • Platonic Cave: Subverted: transCendenZ is just as fake as eXistenZ.
  • Post Cyber Punk: One of the major undercurrents of the film is that although the game world is unreal, bizarre, and often gross (much like horror films) it's not really dangerous to anyone in the real world, and censoring it is a bad idea. The real danger is ideological extremism.
  • Postlap: When the scene jumps from the forced make-out to Trout Farm, breathy make-out sounds continue as a dead amphibian dangles from Pikul's hand.
  • The Mole: Oh, just about everybody.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future
  • Scaramanga Special: The pistol made of bones from the Chinese Restaurant meal, which happened to literally be the Special of the Day.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: How many levels of this virtual reality are there? And how do you know when you're in real life?
  • Serious Business: Darkly parodied. People are willing to kill each other over a video game. But, as Cronenberg's friend Salman Rushdie could tell you, that's not so far off from the truth...
    • Reality Subtext: Cronenberg himself has had some pretty bad experiences with censorship, albeit not to this same level.
  • Shout-Out: To The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: the takeout Allegra and Ted eat early in the film is called "Perky Pat's".
  • Spiritual Sequel: To Videodrome. The opening scene of this movie bears a great resemblance to the end of the other one.
  • Strangely Arousing: the two main characters are in an advanced form of video game where their characters suddenly feel aroused and start making out; at first they are confused, but quickly figure out that the game's script calls for their characters to start a love affair, so they just go with it to advance the plot, all the while talking on a meta-level about the significance of the whole thing and their situation.
  • Unusual User Interface: organic game pods that plug into bio-ports.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz


CrashCreator/David CronenbergSpider
EntrapmentFilms of the 1990sEyes Wide Shut

alternative title(s): E Xisten Z; Ptitlec4kz9jpo
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