Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

Netflix Picks #6

Shayna: I’ve been in a David Cronenberg frame of mind lately, and after watching Crash — a brutal, totally visceral film experience that you can somehow find on YouTube — I felt like slipping further down the rabbit hole with eXistenZ. While this 1999 film didn’t leave me curled up in the fetal position and near tears like Crash did, it does provide plenty of bleak takeaways about the state of human existence. Plus it stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, who pretty much owns in everything.

Set in a not-so-distant future where people can enter virtual realities and video-game designers are fawned over like rock stars (so perhaps not so unlike today), eXistenZ also stars a young Jude Law and features appearances from Willem Dafoe and Sarah Polley. Leigh is frosty and vaguely menacing here as Allegra, the designer of the not-yet-released game eXistenZ. After someone tries to kill her during a focus group session, Allegra is forced to go on the run with Ted (Law), a security guard/would-be “PR nerd” tasked with protecting her and helping ensure the survival of the game itself.

Admittedly, the plot gets Gordian-knot levels of convoluted very quickly, making it difficult to keep track of characters, corporate espionage subplots and even what reality the characters happen to be in most of the time. But the real attraction in eXistenZ is the atmosphere and the props that go along with it. There’s a gun made of bones, which fires teeth and is dripping with slimy viscera. The “bio-pods” used by players to access the game look like squishy embryos and mew contentedly when rubbed the right way. Once inside the game, Ted and Allegra are compelled by its power to follow game script, which at one point leads to an all-you-can-eat feast on mutated frog parts.

It’s wild. While the film feels very much like a product of its time, more aged and less visionary than earlier Cronenberg works like Videodrome and The Fly, eXistenZ is necessary viewing for body horror and sci-fi aficionados alike.

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Birdman (2014): Riggan the Supernova

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Birdman.

There’s a story about these guys, Jack and Murray, who head out to the countryside to visit The Most Photographed Barn in America. They follow the signs and arrive at the barn site, finding a visitor center, an observation deck, droves of people with cameras, the actual barn up on a little rise. “No one sees the barn,” Murray notes. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” Jack says nothing as more tourists arrive, snap pictures, buy postcards. Murray continues. “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one,” he says. “Every photograph reinforces the aura.”

That story is from White Noise by Don DeLillo, an author who largely concerns himself with the same exploration of modern celebrity at the heart of Iñárritu’s Best Picture-winning Birdman. And that aura, so built up around the little red barn that the mass awareness begins to eclipse the individual identity, is not at all unlike the celebrity in which Michael Keaton’s actor Riggan Thomson finds himself trapped. The “public Riggan” — an image maintained in tabloids and represented by the superhuman Birdman — is so overwhelming that it obscures the real Riggan, the artist beneath the public persona, threatening to further that obscurity by tempting Riggan with Birdman 4. Plenty of films address Hollywood and modern celebrity in this way, and we’ll mention a few more from this past year in a moment. It’s Riggan, though, who most fully and tragically shows how impossible it is for an artist to escape the machinery of fame.

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