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This article is about the film. For other uses, see Existenz (disambiguation).
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by
Written by David Cronenberg
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Peter Suschitzky
Edited by Ronald Sanders
Distributed by
Release date
  • April 23, 1999 (Canada/US)
  • April 30, 1999 (UK)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • France
Language English
Box office $2,856,712[2]

Existenz (stylized as eXistenZ) is a 1999 Canadian science fiction body horror film written, produced, and directed by Canadian director David Cronenberg. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law.

As in Videodrome, Cronenberg gives his psychological statement about how humans react and interact with the technologies that surround them, in this case, the world of video games.


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 biotechnological 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 world's preeminent game designer, 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, 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.

Geller 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 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. Pikul, one of a dwindling few who has refused to have a bio-port installed to this point, at first objects due to a phobia about "surgical penetration", but eventually gives in. They head to a gas station run by a black-marketeer named Gas (Willem Dafoe) to get it installed. Gas deliberately installs a faulty bio-port and the game pod is damaged. Gas (a shotgun in hand) reveals that he is going to kill Geller 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 Geller'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 Geller'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 but then expresses surprise at his own rudeness. Geller 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 newer identities as workers at a game pod factory. There, they meet Yevgeny Nourish (Don McKellar), who claims to be their contact in the Realist underground. Nourish recommends that Pikul order the special for lunch at a Chinese restaurant near the factory. Once in the restaurant, Pikul "pauses" the game in order to get back to the real world but then finds out that he is unable to distinguish presumed 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 originally used to shoot Geller. He points it at her as a joke, but then Pikul identifies their Chinese waiter (Oscar Hsu) as an enemy and shoots him instead. In keeping with game parameters, the other patrons of the restaurant appear more frozen than shocked and return to their meals when Pikul tells them it was a simple misunderstanding about the bill. 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. Thus the waiter Pikul murdered was the actual contact. The following day the two plan to sabotage all the game pods in the factory by plugging into a diseased pod. When Geller becomes infected Pikul frees her by cutting the umbycord. But then Geller almost bleeds to death before Nourish appears with a flame thrower, directing it at the diseased pod. The pod bursts, releasing deadly spores all over the factory. Before leaving, Geller stabs Nourish in the back with a knife.

Geller and Pikul suddenly find themselves back in the ski lodge, and it seems that they have lost the game. They discover that Geller's game pod is also diseased. Pikul is confused by the disease's crossover from the game into reality. However, Geller 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 Geller and Pikul outside to witness the death of eXistenZ. Before Carlaw can kill Geller, he is shot in the back by Vinokur, who is a double agent for Cortical Systematics. He informs Geller 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. But she informs him that she knew of his true intentions ever since he pointed the gun at her in the Chinese restaurant. So she kills him, detonating the disinfecting device in his bioport by remote control.

In yet another unexpected twist, the two are then shown sitting on a stage together with the main players from the game. It turns out that the story itself is in fact a virtual reality game called "tranCendenZ" played by the cast. This is enforced by more naturalistic acting coupled with significantly less formulaic dialogue along with cutaways from Geller and Pikul. 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 Geller 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 Geller grab pistols hidden under the dog's false mane and shoot Nourish and Merle to death. As in the restaurant scene, the other players appear more frozen than shocked. As Pikul and Geller 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 Geller standing together in wide-eyed silence, apparently unsure of the answer.



The film's plot came about after Cronenberg conducted an interview with Salman Rushdie for Shift magazine in 1995. At the time, Rushdie was in hiding due to a Fatwa being put on his life by Muslim extremists due to his controversial book The Satanic Verses. Rushdie's dilemma gave Cronenberg an idea of "a Fatwa against a virtual-reality game designer". Existenz was originally set up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but they rejected the idea due to its complex structure.[3]


  • Christopher Priest wrote the tie-in novel to accompany the movie Existenz, the theme of which has much in common with some of Priest's own novels.
  • In 1999, a graphic novel credited to David Cronenberg and Sean Scoffield was published.


The film received generally positive reviews, with a 71% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[4]


Berlin Film Festival

Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival

  • Won, Silver Scream: David Cronenberg

Genie Awards

Golden Reel Awards

  • Nominated, Best Sound Editing in a Foreign Feature: David Evans, Wayne Griffin, Mark Gingras, John Laing, Tom Bjelic, and Paul Shikata

Saturn Awards

  • Nominated, Best Science Fiction Film (lost to The Matrix)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "EXISTENZ (15)". British Board of Film Classification. April 30, 1999. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "eXistenZ". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  3. ^ Richard von Busack (April 22–28, 1999). "Pod Man Out: A virtual-reality game turns reality inside out in David Cronenberg's 'eXistenZ'". Metro Silicon Valley. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Existenz (1999)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Berlinale: 1999 Prize Winners". Berlin Film Festival. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 

External links[edit]