Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Going Where We’ve Always Already Been

First revolted and then delighted, Cronenberg’s film eXistenZ was an exciting, if confusing, romp through reality. The film follows Allegra Geller and Ted Pikul through a series of realities as they attempt to escape an anti-virtual reality terrorist group. To say that there is a single, consistent plot, however, is to ignore the multitudinous ways in which realities fracture and collapse throughout the film. Allegra Geller’s escape from persecution is the driving theme of most of the film but towards the conclusion of the film we realize that this was simply a part of the game, her persecution an element in Yevgeny Nourish’s game creation. And yet when this story arc ends and Allegra and Ted awake from their virtual slumber they are once again thrown into a similar plot, only the names are changed. It would be easy to read this film as a prophetic warning about the dangers inherent in tuning in, turning off and dropping out of our shared sense of reality but such a reading denies the clear emphasis Cronenberg places on problematizing easy separations of the real and imagined.

Cronenberg uses wrote, over the top dialogue to signal what we as viewers already know about the film. This tactic creates a level of self-awareness in the film which is atonce uncomfortable and familiar. The characters in the film act as if they are characters, well aware of the limitations and incompleteness of their own story arcs and the world they occupy. IN one scene Ted Pikul announces, to no one in particular:

We're both stumbling around together in this unformed world, whose rules and objectives are largely unknown, seemingly indecipherable or even possibly nonexistent, always on the verge of being killed by forces that we don't understand.

Ted, like the movie watching audience, is watching a confusing array of events unfold before eyes with little choice in how they occur and what his actions should be. Like a movie-goer, Ted is told how to feel and how to react. Music, clothing, dramatic dialogue and over-the-top action signal game players and audience members which emotions and actions are suitable responses at any given moment in the film/game.


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