Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh life is the name of the game
David Cronenberg explains the complex mind games in his sensational new film, eXistenZ

A Shivers interview by Ian Calcutt


selected from Shivers #65

For 30 years, Canadian film-maker David Cronenberg has been conducting his macabre experiments. Almost without exception, his movie characters have undergone painful physical and/or mental transformations in the name of progress, usually with tragic results. But Cronenberg is one of the few film directors to push the creative envelope as far in terms of ideas and images.

For his latest test of human nature, eXistenZ, Cronenberg uses the realm of virtual reality to study whether our grip on the 'real' world is as strong as we perceive it to be. Our entry point in the movie is world-renowned games designer Allegra Geller. After an assassination attempt by militant 'realists', Geller goes on the run with her hesitant new bodyguard Ted Pikul. Together they must play her game, called eXistenZ, to unravel the complicated conspiracy around her.

Some viewers may spot elements of Cronenberg's persona in Pikul, played with a recognizable Canadian accent by British actor Jude Law (Gattaca). "I said, 'Use me as the model, talk like me'. He did extremely well," recalls Cronenberg. "It's a subtle thing. Everybody knows a New York accent, not too many know a downtown Toronto accent."

Of most importance to Cronenberg, however, is Geller's role (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). "I wanted to have the lead character be an artist, but I didn't want to make her a film-maker because that leads to a whole other level of discussion. I wanted some distance, and I wanted some inventiveness, but I still use it as a platform for comment about the artistic process and, to some extent, the film-making process.

"So, when Jennifer gets up on stage at the beginning and says: the games world is in a kind of a trance, people are programmed to accept so little, but the possibilities are so great - I'm really talking about film. I'm talking about Hollywood. People's expectations are shaped by Hollywood now and it's almost as if they can't relate to any other kind of film-making. Which is a terrifying thing for me as it means that my possibilities are therefore very limited and I might be losing an audience that can actually understand me at all."

Cronenberg's vision of futuristic video games is way beyond what Sony and Nintendo could concoct and closer to the kind of bizarre, organic creations seen in the director's previous films. "If I were a games designer I would love to have complete access to my players' nervous systems, just with as a film-maker I really want my audience's full life. I want them to bring me everything: all of their experiences, all of the films that they've seen and the books that they've read. The idea in the film - of technology being an extension of the body - is made flesh by showing you technology, literally, that's plugged into your body."

eXistenZ picture copyright Alliance Atlantis

Read the full interview with David Cronenberg in Shivers #65

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