Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Real Science Fiction: "eXistenZ", 1999

Everybody seems to compare this to The Matrix and The 13th Floor, and when I first saw it I too expected something like the Matrix. This film was so different from the Matrix, which I would consider a great action movie with a few allusions to Descartes and Robert Nozick thrown in. The 13th Floor is a passable action movie with some slightly more interesting philosophy thrown in. Existenz is not an action movie at all, but is about the human tendency to intentionally replace "reality" with virtual reality. I will write more extensively on this later.

But the most piquant moments (or the moment when I realized something deep about the film) is when Allegra Geller repeats her "scripted" line. It's at that point you realize that the people in the game have voluntarily surrendered their free will in order to participate in a story--a scripted story. This is made even more frightening at the end when D'Arcy Nader (or rather his player) comments on the possibility of spending one's life in the game. I sympathize don't actually agree with the "realist" philosophy of the director, Cronenberg. He seems to take a stance that is luddist in nature, implying that providing interesting worlds in which people simply located in a virtual world like eXistenZ or TranscendenZ is a recipe for a negative living experience. Living "in the game" is supposed to be considered by most people to be not really living at all, but is a tempting way to spend one's time on earth.

As Allegra comments about the real world, "there's nothing going on here." But in her game nothing is going on either--and it's a scripted game, so there is no free will. (Although I have to ask whether Cronenberg considers this a self-indictment, considering that he himself offers up deterministic worlds to be experienced in 90 minute snippets.)

After first watching this movie, I thought it was one of those movies that was watchable only to see how it ended. But I imagine it can be watched even more to see how much deeper it goes.

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