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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Cronenberg|
|Written by||David Cronenberg|
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Edited by||Ronald Sanders|
|Box office||$2.9 million|
Existenz (stylized as eXistenZ) is a 1999 science fiction body horror film produced, written and directed by the Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law. As in Videodrome (1983), Cronenberg gives his psychological statement about how humans react and interact with the technologies that surround them, which in this case, the world of video games.  eXistenZ was his last original screenplay until Cosmopolis (2012).
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In the near-future, biotechnological virtual reality game consoles known as "game pods" have replaced electronic ones. The pods present "UmbyCords" that attach to "bio-ports", connectors surgically inserted into players' spines . 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), a world renowned game designer, is demonstrating her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ to a focus group at a seminar. A realist named Noel Dichter (Kris Lemche) shoots Allegra in the shoulder with an organic pistol he smuggled past 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 eXistenZ, may have been damaged. Pikul reluctantly agrees to have a bio-port installed in his spine so they can test the integrity of the game together. Allegra takes him to a gas station run by a black-marketeer named Gas (Willem Dafoe) to get it done. Gas deliberately installs a faulty bio-port, which damages the game pod, and reveals his intention to kill Geller for the bounty on her head. Pikul kills Gas, and the two escape to a former ski lodge used by Geller's mentor, Kiri Vinokur (Ian Holm). Vinokur and his assistant repair the damaged pod and give Pikul a new bio-port.
Geller and Pikul enter the game, and meet with D'Arcy Nader (Robert A. Silverman), a video game shop owner, who provides them new “micro pods.” Pikul expresses surprise when he is compelled by the game’s program to speak rudely toward Nader as part of his in-game character. The pair activate the new pods and enter a deeper layer of virtual reality.
They assume new identities as workers in a grotesque game pod factory. Another worker in the factory, Yevegny Nourish (Don McKellar), claims to be their contact for the Realist underground. Nourish recommends that they order the special for lunch at Chinese restaurant near the factory, which turns out to be an assortment of cooked mutant animals. Pikul eats the unappetizing special, and almost automatedly constructs a pistol like the one used to shoot Geller out of the inedible parts. He threatens Geller in jest, then shoots the Chinese waiter (Oscar Hsu). 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 Pikul murdered was the actual contact.
Returning to the factory, they find a diseased pod. Geller connects it to her bio-port as part of a plan to infect the other pods and sabotage the factory. When Geller quickly becomes ill, Pikul cuts the UmbyCord, but she begins to bleed to death. Nourish appears with a flamethrower and blasts the diseased pod, which bursts into deadly spores.
Geller and Pikul awaken back at the ski lodge, where they discover Allegra’s game pod is also diseased. Allegra surmises that Pikul’s new bio-port must have been infected by Vinokur 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 is a Realist sent to kill her. Geller tells Pikul she had known his intentions since he pointed the gun at her in the Chinese restaurant, and she remotely detonates the disinfecting device in his bioport, killing him.
Suddenly, Pikul and Geller are shown on stage together with the other members of the cast, wearing electronic virtual reality devices. Nourish explains that the story was all part of a virtual reality game he designed called tranCendenZ. He tells his assistant Merle (Sarah Polley) that he feels uneasy, because the anti-game plot elements may have originated from the thoughts of one of the testers. Pikul and Geller approach Nourish and accuse him of distorting reality, before shooting him and Merle to death. 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.
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Allegra Geller
- Jude Law as Ted Pikul
- Ian Holm as Kiri Vinokur
- Don McKellar as Yevgeny Nourish
- Callum Keith Rennie as Hugo Carlaw
- Sarah Polley as Merle
- Christopher Eccleston as the Seminar Leader
- Willem Dafoe as Gas
- Robert A. Silverman as D'Arcy Nader
- Oscar Hsu as Chinese Waiter
- Kris Lemche as Noel Dichter
- Vik Sahay as Male Assistant
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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 pitched to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but they did not green-light the film due to its complex structure.
- 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.
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The film received generally positive reviews, with a 71% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The site's summary stated of the film: "Gooey, slimy, grotesque fun." Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three stars in his review of the film. Noting its release after fellow science-fiction film The Matrix, he compared the two, stating that while both have special effects, he stated that Cronenberg's film was stranger along with having his best effects involve "gooey, indescribable organic things".  Conversely, James Berardinelli gave the film a two star rating in his review. He cites the disjointed feel of the film, calling it a "missed opportunity" that suffers from being released near The Matrix and Open Your Eyes, which he states did similar things that were accomplished better in those film. 
Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival
- Won, Silver Scream: David Cronenberg
- Won, Best Achievement in Editing: Ronald Sanders
- Nominated, Best Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design: Carol Spier, and Elinor Rose Galbraith
- Nominated, Best Motion Picture: David Cronenberg, Robert Lantos, and Andras Hamori
- Nominated, Best Sound Editing in a Foreign Feature: David Evans, Wayne Griffin, Mark Gingras, John Laing, Tom Bjelic, and Paul Shikata
- Nominated, Best Science Fiction Film (lost to The Matrix)
- Alternate reality game
- Game studies
- The Matrix (1999 film)
- Playtest (Black Mirror)
- Simulated reality
- The Thirteenth Floor (1999 film)
- "EXISTENZ (15)". British Board of Film Classification. April 30, 1999. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
- "eXistenZ". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
- 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.
- "Existenz (1999)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
- "Berlinale: 1999 Prize Winners". Berlin Film Festival. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
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