Wednesday, April 20, 2011

eXistenZ and Inception (duhnduhnduhnduhnduhn..WOOOOOAAAAAHHHHNNNN)

One thing that really struck me about eXistenZ was its similarity to Inception in the exploration and questioning of reality. Though other films have certainly incorporated such themes (e.g., The Matrix), both of the films in question layer many different “virtual” realities in order to disorient the viewer from understanding which one is, in fact, “real.” Even the realities from which the protagonists plunge into their virtual worlds are called into question at the end of both stories: Leonardo DiCapprio's spinning top and the Chinese waiter's inquiry as to whether or not the players are still gaming. In the latter case, the gamers already rose from a virtual reality that was introduced as the true reality at the beginning of the movie, further emphasizing the ambiguity of realism.

Another interesting parallel lies in the construction of the game in eXistenZ. That is, a player's preconceived ideas and unconscious desires apparently help shape the way the virtual reality, the characters, and the goals of the game are formed. As a result of such ideas and desires, the game we witness reflects an ongoing struggle between “realists” and gamers. In the “real world,” the former accuse the latter of “deforming reality” by creating an alternate one in which people can indulge their time, their energy, and their dreams. This introduces the notion that the virtual world is a dangerous vice that tempts many into limbo and apathy, while continuing the discussion with respect to questioning reality. Furthermore, the inception of these ideas into the virtual world highlight the dangers of virtual reality as well as the power of human will.

From a game designer's standpoint, the balance of free choice versus structure and control likely exhibits the greatest challenge in designing a virtually realistic system. Allegra notes at the beginning of the film that eXistenZ is meant to be an entirely new gaming paradigm; perhaps this was meant to reflect a shifting of such balance. As a gamer, I understand the dilemma. The linearity (or lack thereof) of a game often correlates with its replay value; at the same time, if the gamer is given too much freedom, the storyline often suffers. In The Matrix, the machines encounter a similar problem after the failure of their first, utopian virtual reality. Their solution was to create the perfect illusion of free choice to keep the minds of their human batteries content. To really drive home the relevancy of this balance, Pikul asks Allegra shortly after being “plugged in” for the first time if there is any free will in her games. She replies, “Only as much as real life.”

Bad acting and accents aside, eXistenZ appears to be the Canadian predecessor to Inception in the genre of virtual reality mind****s. While both movies certainly incorporate other themes (e.g., Pikul's fear of penetration and revulsion at the organic game consoles), they both focus on the power of ideas, the importance of free will, and the dangers of indulging in dream worlds. Both also force us to ask questions such as: What is reality? How can we tell if we're really in it? How does our understanding of it influence our understanding of consequence and violence? Finally, can we truly choose our own destinies, or are we all part of a bigger game designed by someone upstairs?

Also, this has nothing to do with my post, but in case you don't get my title...


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