Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar
Director: 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.”(IMDb)
What to Expect
Why You Should Watch It
The idea of not only physically linking yourself to your gaming console, but also that gaming console existing as a symbiotic organism is pretty revolutionary, and the film brings up several issues that might come from such an idea. Would people embrace or reject that level of immersive virtual reality? How does the console feel about being used for play? Does it feel? How does one know when they’ve really exited the game?
The whole what’s-real-what’s-illusion theme is a tried and true aspect of many a Weird Movie (and many a sci-fi), but Cronenberg manages to deliver it in a way that is both unexpected and satisfying in its ambiguity. The ending will make you laugh out loud because you never saw it coming.
Rainy Day Flick (C)
Looking back, you can find clues to the film’s twist ending, but they’re few and far between. The first assassin who shows up with the freaky bio-gun and the two-headed ‘bug’ originally made me think that the gameplay was somehow finding a way to make itself tangible. If the controllers are organisms charged with creating worlds for people, why not create an adventure in the real world? Leigh’s character Allegra also gives us a hint it was all a dream when she suggests going to a country gas station before she and Ted Pikel (Law) magically find the place, aptly named Country Gas Station. Previously dead characters showing up again and our heroes porting into things over and over but not porting out every time were other signals as well. Even the character’s names all meant something: Allegra is joy or cheerfulness (even though she’s the opposite), a pikel is a pitchfork, Gas (Dafoe) works at the gas station, and Nourish (McKellar) works at the place that harvests mutant reptiles and amphibians both for game pod manufacturing and human consumption.
So the signs were there, but they weren’t glaring enough to give away the fact that the entire movie up until the last five minutes was all part of the virtual reality game, tranCendenZ. The audience is so sold on the idea of biological gameplay (and the many sexual metaphors it affords) by this point that it’s almost disappointing to see the real game consist of a bunch of clunky electronic equipment. Yet it’s a fun twist, all the same.
Nourish’s concerns over the anti-VR elements in tranCendenZ suggests several other elements in the story’s plot are influenced by the players, as opposed to the game within a game, eXistenZ, whose world is influenced by the game controller. This gamer-created virtual reality is one of the main arguments Cronenberg makes in the film, saying “we are masters of the universe,” and therefore responsible for our actions. There is no puppet master pulling the strings for us; we make our own reality.