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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

eXistenZ is a 1999 psychological thriller/science fiction film by Canadian director David Cronenberg. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law.

Andras Hamori and Robert Lantos (two producers of the film who are both of Hungarian origin) said in an interview that they intentionally hid a pun in the title: "isten" is the word for "God" in Hungarian. This is why the X and Z are capitalized in the title of eXistenZ, to single out the word "isten".


In the near-future, organic virtual reality game consoles known as "game pods" have replaced electronic ones. The pods are attached to "bio-ports", outlets inserted at players' spines, through umbilical cords. Two game companies, Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics compete against each other. In addition, a group of "realists" fights both companies to prevent the "deforming" of reality.

Antenna Research's Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the greatest game designer in the world, is testing her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ, with a focus group at a seminar. She is shot in the shoulder by an assassin named Noel Dichter (Kris Lemche) with an organic pistol (the weapon on the poster), which is undetectable by security. As Dichter is gunned down by the security team, security guard (and marketing trainee) Ted Pikul (Jude Law), rushes to Geller and escorts her outside.

Allegra discovers that her pod, which contains the only copy of the eXistenZ game, may have been damaged due to an "UmbyCord" being ripped out as the game was being downloaded. To test it, she must plug into the game in tandem with another player that she can trust, and talks a reluctant Pikul into installing a bio-port in his own body so he can play the game with her. They head to a gas station run by a black marketeer named Gas (Willem Dafoe) to get it installed. Pikul at first objects due to a phobia about "surgical penetration," but eventually gives in. Gas deliberately installs a faulty bio-port and the game pod is damaged. Gas (with a shotgun in hand) reveals that he is going to kill Allegra for the bounty on her head, but Pikul shoots him with the rivet gun used to install the port.

The pair make their way to a former ski lodge used by Allegra's mentor, Kiri Vinokur (Ian Holm). He and his assistant repair the damaged pod and give Pikul a new bio-port. Inside the game, Pikul realizes that it is hard to tell whether his or Allegra's actions are their own intentions or the game's. When they meet D'Arcy Nader (Robert A. Silverman), a video game shop owner, Pikul speaks rudely to him. Allegra informs him that it was the doing of his game character.

Reality becomes more distorted when they use new micro pods given to them by Nader and gain new identities as workers at a game pod factory. There, they meet Yevgeny Nourish (Don McKellar), who claims to be their contact in the Realist underworld. Nourish recommends that Pikul order the special for lunch at a Chinese restaurant near the factory. Pikul "pauses" the game in order to get back to the real world, but finds out that he is unable to distinguish reality from illusion. Back in the restaurant, Pikul develops an urge to eat the unappetizing special, which turns out to be an assortment of cooked mutant animals. Pikul constructs a familiar object from the inedible parts—the pistol used to shoot Allegra. He points it at her as a joke, but then Nourish identifies their waiter (Oscar Hsu) as an enemy and gets Pikul to shoot him instead. When the pair return to the game store, Hugo Carlaw (Callum Keith Rennie) informs them that Nourish is actually a double agent for Cortical Systematics, and the waiter whom Pikul shot was the actual contact. The next day at the factory, the two plan to sabotage all the game pods in the factory by plugging into a diseased pod. When Allegra becomes infected, Pikul frees her by cutting the umbycord. Allegra almost bleeds to death until Nourish shows up again with a flame thrower. The pod bursts, releasing deadly spores. Before leaving, Allegra stabs Nourish in the back with a knife.

Allegra and Pikul suddenly find themselves back in the ski lodge, and it seems that they have lost the game. They discover that Allegra's game pod is also diseased. Pikul is confused by the disease's crossover from the game into reality. However, Allegra immediately notices Pikul rubbing his back and realizes that Vinokur gave Pikul an infected bioport in order to destroy her game. She inserts a disinfecting device into Pikul's bioport. Unexpectedly, Carlaw reappears as a Realist resistance fighter, and escorts Allegra and Pikul outside to witness the death of eXistenZ. Before Carlaw can kill Allegra, he is shot in the back by Vinokur, who is a double agent for Cortical Systematics. He informs Allegra that he copied her game data while he was fixing her pod. In revenge, she kills Vinokur. Pikul then reveals that he himself was sent to kill her; he is a Realist. However, she informs him that she knew of his true intentions ever since he pointed the gun at her in the Chinese restaurant, then kills him by detonating the disinfecting device in his bio-port by remote control.

In yet another twist, it turns out that the story itself is in fact a virtual reality game called "tranCendenZ" played by the cast, mirroring the first scene. This is enforced by more naturalistic acting coupled with significantly less cliche dialog. Another difference occurs when it is revealed that players are using electronic devices rather than game pods. The real game designer, Nourish, feels uneasy because the game started with the assassination of a game designer and had an overall anti-game theme that he suspects originated from the thoughts of one of the testers. Pikul and Allegra approach him (with Pikul's pet dog close by) and ask him if he should pay for his "crimes" of deforming reality. As Merle (Sarah Polley), Nourish's assistant, calls for security, Pikul and Allegra grab pistols hidden under the dog's false mane and shoot Nourish and Merle to death, shocking the test group. As they leave, they aim their guns at the person who played the Chinese waiter, who first pleads for his life, then asks if they are still in the game. The last shot is of Pikul and Allegra standing in surprised silence, apparently unsure of the answer.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Existenz" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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