eXistenZ (1999)

Directed by David Cronenberg

A game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.

What was with all of those virtual/simulated reality films just before the end of the century? We had Dark City (1998), The Matrix (1999) and eXistenZ (1999) at the very least, and who knows how many more that I haven't heard of yet.

Dark City has been rightfully forgotten, but eXistenZ still has something interesting to say about the current moment — indeed, there is a thought-provoking Michael & Us episode that touches on how eXistenZ can be read as prefiguring much of the 'virtual' politics of today, with elections mostly bereft of politics and reduced mostly to punditry and meta-punditry. Whether you agree with this reading or not, you do have to admit that well before 4chan and social media, Cronenberg was calling people NPCs.

(Watching this film, I couldn't help but make a loose connection between eXistenZ's Canadian extremists and the separatist groups in David Foster Wallace's 1997 novel Infinite Jest.)


The trancelike realm of eXistenZ—a replication of real life that feels unnatural for those inside it—carries similarities to the lifeless, artificial flavor of AI imagery and entertainment.

Sage Dunlap (Paste Magazine)


There is no red pill in eXistenZ—it's all fun and games, complete with the Freudian notion of a "game urge".

— J. Hoberman: Film After Film (Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?) (2012)