eXistenZ: Background

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For the first time since Videodrome, Cronenberg has written a completely original screenplay, eXistenZ, deriving his inspiration from the fugitive writer, Salman Rushdie (The Satanic Verses). After interviewing the author for a magazine article in the summer of 1995, Cronenberg was struck with the idea of an artist who suddenly finds himself on a hit list for religious or philosophical reasons and forced to flee into hiding. "That's why I use the word fatwa in the screenplay," says the director.

"Because of my natural inclinations, I decided to make that person a game designer rather than a writer, thinking that game design could possibly ascend to the level of art." Cronenberg and Rushdie actually ended up discussing whether or not a game could ever become an art form, although, at the time, Cronenberg did not divulge that he was thinking of making Rushdie's situation the centerpiece of a movie.

Participating in the game was an afterthought. When he began writing the screenplay, Cronenberg never intended to enter the game. "I thought it would be a movie about a game designer on the run from the fanatics. Then as I started to write it, I was desperate to get into the game myself and I thought - well, if I'm desperate to get into the game, I guess the audience is going to be desperate. Although it could be kind of an artful surrealistic thing not to go into the game, I couldn't deny everybody that pleasure - and I wanted to know what I would come up with."

What evolved was a stunning concept in the most brilliant Cronenbergian tradition. "It seemed to me that what people are really doing in computer and video games is trying to get closer and closer to fusing themselves with the game," explains Cronenberg. "The idea that a game would plug right into your nervous system made perfect sense to me, because putting on glasses and gloves is a crude attempt to fuse your nervous system with the game. So I went that little bit further - if I want to be the game, the game will also want to be me."

The vehicle for the game evolved into a creature in the shape of something that one would use to manipulate the game, the way one uses controllers. " It's really an attempt to fuse the fantasy and make it real, physical and organic. It's the game made flesh."

Cronenberg created an entirely new vocabulary to describe the game. eXistenZ is programmed into a "MetaFlesh Game-Pod" attached by an "umbycord" plugged into a "bioport" located at the base of the player's spine (see eXistenZ glossary). The player's energy supplies the power. The game changes every time it's played, adapting to the individuals playing it. One has to play the game to find out why they're playing the game. More than one person can plug into the same game. Thus conjoined, they embark on a series of bizarre and surrealistic adventures together as do Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law's characters in the film.

The game became the perfect venue to embrace two of Cronenberg's favorite themes: the extent to which we create our own levels of reality, and the idea of a creative act being a dangerous thing to the creator. "These are the two poles that are the basis of eXistenZ. So thematically it connects to Crash, Videodrome, Naked Lunch, and in fact, M. Butterfly," he explains.

eXistenZ is the second picture on which Alliance has been associated with Cronenberg. The first, Crash, starring James Spader and Holly Hunter, produced and distributed worldwide by Alliance, won the Special Jury Prize at the 1996 International Cannes Film Festival.

"Our on-going relationship with David Cronenberg is a reflection of our commitment to occupy the center field in independent filmmaking," said Andras Hamori, President of Alliance Pictures. "As an international independent, Alliance must always remain reactive, adaptable and able to cover a very broad field."

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