Ending of eXistenZ Mindjob Extraordinaire Explained
Ending of eXistenZ Mindjob Extraordinaire Explained - because this is without a doubt one of the craziest cinema experiments ever crafted. IMDB
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I think that over the past several years there hasn’t been a movie more mentioned, and more pushed for THiNC. to watch and review, than this movie, eXistenZ. (OK, maybe Donnie Darko, but exceptions are just ruinous to hyperbole, so let’s just let that go.) I mean, why not, with such an outrageously good cast – Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, and Willem Dafoe, how could it go wrong? I’ve probably seen it mentioned at least fifty times. In post comments, in emails to me, in side discussions on the recommendations page, eXistenZ has just had all the grassroots love imaginable here on this site. But why has it taken this long to get to it? Because it looks just epically stupid to me. Pardon my candor. But, if you are resistant, maybe you should – like I did – give it a second (or fiftieth) shot. There might be a lot here to talk about.

eXistenZ is more than a lamely capitalized movie title. It’s a mindjob within a mindjob of epic proportions. If you haven’t seen it yet, probably the single best analogy I could make would be the Black Mirror episode Nosedive. Or maybe Edge of Tomorrow? Hahaha, no, I’ve got it, it’s most like the new movie Serenity with McConaughey and Hathaway. But this movie, though I’ve just given you a PILE of hints to where this movie is going, is better experienced cold. But if you are a student of mindjob movies, you’ll for sure see this one coming. And even so, the reveal(s?) are still worth the wait.

Holy Cow that looks like an old movie. But don’t let that dissuade you from watching. Its mind blowing ideas were so far ahead of its day that it really does have some crazy ideas about it.

Detailed Walkthrough of eXistenZ

In the near-ish past future (I don’t know – work with me here. This thing was made in 1999 – it was an entirely different millennium for heaven’s sake.) new biological VR game consoles have replaced old tech electronics. These things are made of flesh and blood, and come with fitting umbilical chords that jack into physical ports placed in the player’s small of the back so that the game can jack directly into the spine. And there are two big gaming console systems out there – Antenna Research, and Cortical Systematics. (Microsoft and Sega anyone?) And apparently, VR has become so pervasively ubiquitous that there are freedom fighters called the Realists, who struggle against the ruining of reality through the bleeding of the VR into player’s consciousness.

Now, as the movie opens, Antenna is doing a small focus group with a dozen or so players who will give feedback into the game and it’s pros and cons. But before the game focus group launches, Noel Dichter (played by Kris Lemche), a Realist, shoots Allegra Geller (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), the foremost VR game designer in the world today. Jude Law’s character, Ted Pikul, a security consultant, rushes Allegra away from the building. Now, Geller, whose personal pod carries the only copy of eXistenZ in the world (oh, puh-lease), is worried that her pod has been damaged in the attack. And to determine the damage, she needs Pikul to log in with her to the game. Only glitch? He’s never had a game port put in. (Huge Realist tip #1?) But he agrees to it. And at a local station, Gas (played by Willem Dafoe), sort of a pirate, black market marauder, puts in a port for Pikul. A faulty port at that, because he wants to kill Allegra for the bounty on her head. After Pikul kills Gas, the duo escape to Gellor’s mentor Kiri Vinokur (played by Ian Holm), where Vinokur rebuilds Allegra’s pod, and give Pikul a new bio-port. And after this, they entered the game.

Are we going too fast here? Nope, not nearly fast enough. Why? Because there are two more layers beyond this one, vertically. And that doesn’t even count the game layers they haven’t even entered yet (cough.) But at this point, I already knew we were two layers deep. Why? Because as we learn what the game is like, and how the NPC’s worked, and the game system itself worked, we saw manifestations of these rules at the outset of the movie. OK! Stop yelling at me! I’m going! Gah. Who’s blog is this anyway??!?

And the first thing that they do upon entering the game? Wait for it…

They jack into another game. They activate a new micro pod that overlays a deeper virtual virtual reality. No. I did not stutter. And when this new layer kicks in, they take on new game roles as workers in a pod factory. You know, those flesh and blood controllers? Yeah, they beginning making those.

Well, soon after arriving at the factory, Yevgeny Nourish (Don McKellar) convinces them that he is their Realist contact within the plant. And convinces them that they need to kill the waiter at a nearby Chinese restaurant by ordering the special and getting a bio-weapon in his meal. (You literally cannot make up this level of crazy.) And after shooting the waiter, they learn from Hugo Carlaw (played by Callum Keith Rennie) that they had actually killed their real contact, and that Nourish is a double agent for Cortical Systematics (Which was one of the two big VR creators, if you remember back 4 paragraphs at this point.)

Alright, hold on to your butts, because this gets all kinds of rocky from this point forward. So back at the factory, Geller and Pikul find a sick pod that they are going to use to infect all the other pods with. But when Geller jacks into it she immediately becomes sick. And when Pikul cuts the chord it causes Geller to start bleeding to death. Nourish arrives, and hits the pod with a flamethrower – causing spores to erupt all over the factory. And jumping up a layer, Geller and Pikul awaken from the game, back at the ski lodge, noticing that Geller’s “real life” game pod that carries the eXistenZ code base is also infected. (If you are keeping track, it was Vinokur that infected her pod, Geller’s mentor. Which basically means every single character we’ve met so far is a double agent. At least, if not a triple. I kid you not.) And to prove my prior point, Carlaw arrives as a Realist guerrilla fighter, ready to kill Geller, in order to bring about the death of eXistenZ. Vinokur though kills Carlaw. (hahaha.) And then Pikul kills Vinokur – who, obviously (???!?) was a double agent, like everyone else in this movie.

But to take the cake? Pikul is actually a Realist agent, who was sent to kill Geller. BECAUSE OF COURSE HE WAS! But Geller knew, because everyone has a pod port these days, and only Realists don’t. And then she unceremoniously kills him – oh, and this is my favorite part of the movie – by detonating the plug she put in his port to “fix” the infection in his back.

BUT WE AREN’T DONE YET. Keep your hands and feet in the car til the ride comes to a complete stop dangit!

With Pikul’s death, everyone awakens back onto a stage with the rest of the focus group that played the game. Wait, this stage is different. And, now that I think about it, didn’t we never kick off that focus group? Wasn’t it interrupted by an attempted assassination of Geller? Oh right. So, even before the movie started, the game had already started. The focus group testing was already under way. And the game, was of a focus group, ready to do some testing. Make sense? Yeah, it doesn’t to me either.

So, the group, laughs about the game, and they all wish that they could have had a bigger part in the game, that they could have lasted longer. But Geller and Pikul admit that they were dating in real life, and that they had been working together to beat everyone else in the game. And this particular game isn’t called eXistenZ, but rather, TransCendenZ. After the debrief of the game, Nourish, the game designer, tells his assistant that he didn’t like the anti-VR bent the game took. One of the players had to have introduced that spin to the game while playing. And that is when Pikul and Geller come talk to Nourish to tell him that he has been guilty of warping reality. (REALISTS! GAH!) And with that, they shoot Nourish and his assistant.

As they are walking out, Pikul and Geller spin a top, and we all wait to see if the top wobbles and falls or if it keeps spinning. No. Wrong movie. Sorry. They point their guns at a fellow player, and he says to them, “Wait, are we still in the game?” But we don’t get an answer – fade to black, and roll the credits.

That Is Just Too Crazy

I just have to vent for a moment. Not only did David Cronenberg drop us into a pile of layers of descending realities over laid on one another, but he also made literally every character a double agent. All the characters betrayed Allegra in order to try and kill her. I think anyway. It’s nuts. But why can he get away with this in his movie? Well, that is simple, it’s because the movie is parodying video games. It’s as if a non-video game player tried to tell a video game player what video games are like.

How Many Layers? 4, 5, or N?

So, how many layers are there in this movie? I famously (Well, famously in my own mind, infamously is probably more like it.) posited that Inception had seven layers. So I may not be the right person to do the counting. But let’s take a crack at it, shall we? And I’ll count them chronologically:

  1. Game Layer 1 – the failed focus group layer.
  2. eXistenZ Layer 1 – the “first” game layer we actually are shown.
  3. The Mini-pod game layer – the layer that creates the spy characters in game.
  4. The Real World TransCendenZ Focus group.

See? Simple. There are four layers. What else do you want? Wait! Not so fast. Like Inception, we are left holding our breath when the movie ends. We don’t know whether we are still in-game or not. I don’t normally read other thoughts on movies, and how others believe they are explained, but seeing as though this movie is twenty years old, I figured, I might as well. And the ending is predictably divided. Some say the ending is in the real world, and some say the ending isn’t:

  1. Game Layer 1 – the failed focus group layer.
  2. eXistenZ Layer 1 – the “first” game layer we actually are shown.
  3. The Mini-pod game layer – the layer that creates the spy characters in game.
  4. The Real World TransCendenZ Focus group.
  5. Reality beneath layer four…?

In order to come to the conclusion that the ending is in the real world, many point to more realistic acting. “Wow, my English accent was so thick I almost couldn’t even understand myself!” And, “I really wish I was in more of the game, I was killed so early on.” and the like. But then, that assumes that Pikul and Geller walking out of the game (within a game, within a game) and pulling guns out and killing the creators is the most normal thing in the world. But, I would argue, that as these final actions were so in line with the games that we saw play out, that they have to be more game. The contra-argument would be, “but the game molded to the players that came from the real world, and that is why the game took the form of the Realists guerrilla war.”

Personally, I believe that there are five layers, and that the ending is decidedly still in the game world. I don’t have a hesitation in my mind. It’s the only thing keeping me from hating his movie! hahaha. And not only that, but there is literally nothing stopping me from going on infinitely – just adding game layer after game layer. Nothing. Think zero friction. This movie is just that insane. So if you need N-layers of games embedded inside games in order to make sense of it? Feel free.

My Thoughts on eXistenZ

This movie has literally the same problem that the recent movie Serenity had. Which was, before we are told we are in the game, we are already in the game. Which means, in order to remain consistent, all the actors (and some really amazing acting talent has been assembled by Cronenberg) are hobbled into acting like they aren’t acting like they are in a game. Hahahah. Seriously. But, I have to say, the raw audacity of this movie is its sheer brilliance. And, as an aside, I just recently discussed David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon’s, Antiviral, which definitely runs deep in his father’s vein of crazy, if crazy interests you.

So all that to say, the acting was terrible. But it was terrible on purpose. The writing was super hokey. But it was super hokey on purpose. We never once see real reality. Not once. We are 100% immersed for the duration of this run time inside a “game.” And the game is limited by the game writer’s ability to develop characters, and develop game dialog. If you don’t mind that, even before the reveal comes, then you can handle this movie and appreciate it for what it is. An inside out mindjob movie for the ages.

But ultimately, I believe that Cronenberg was investigating our own denials of reality. Cronenberg might as well just be listed among the greats of Existentialism thought – you know, like Albert Camus, Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the like. It feels to me like Mr. Cronenberg is saying to us, the viewing audience, our avoidance with reality will eventually come back to haunt us. Reality is the only thing that will keep us sane, even though, suckling at the breast of the television (the boob tube anyone?) or Virtual Reality games (Ready Player One much?), just delays the inevitable. We will all be T-boned by the truth whether we want to be or not. And avoiding it through this fantasy play land only delays (and intensifies) the pain of it. There’s probably a doctorate in here somewhere.

Seeing as though it was you all that talked me into watching this insane celluloid car crash, what did you guys think of it?

Edited by, CY

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12 Responses

  1. Thomas Luschen

    Thanks for covering this movie with your usual impeccable style. I must agree with you, in retrospect, this whole movie does seem like a commentary on the inanity of video games.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Not just video games. Anything that we do that unplugs us from reality. You know? Maybe for you that is reading. Or me it’s drugs. Or her, it’s social media. Sure, Virtual Reality is an easy target. Because we are literally leaving this reality, and going to that fake one over there. But I think it’s bigger than that. But maybe I’m giving the movie too much credit.

      Reply
  2. Lisa

    I watched this film a while back and almost didn’t because it was old for science fiction and looked like it might be silly but I started it and got hooked in when it got so crazy so fast. I agree the same as Serenity, the over the top acting indicates the game started before the film and we were still in the game when it ended so we have no ending in actual reality which is a pretty interesting concept and makes the film one of a kind just for that reason. Imagine we do come to a time when we have people fighting for reality’s sake. This reminded me a little bit of Ready Player One as well, just without a cool 80s soundtrack and lots of Easter eggs.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Lisa – you and I are twins separated at birth. I’ll be Luke. You be Leia. And we will eradicate the empire throughout the universe.

      Unclear what to say after that.
      Stopping now while I’m behind.

      Reply
  3. Alexander

    Personnally, I have 2 theories:
    1/ I think they were in real world at last scene, after they killed the designer, they yelled the Slogan to distract other people in church (other would think they still were in game)
    2/ Only Pikel is a real player, he is the most naturally in action, the others are NPCs, because in the factory, Allegra repeated her line exactly like we’d already seen NPCs doing earlier.
    But I like your idea. Seems, the director has succeeded to make we think about several ending.

    Reply
  4. M Wyant

    My 2 cents? Just like Terminator and many such movies are in essence a warning of the dangers of AI could this be a warning of the dangers of VR? I mean truly losing yourself in it so that you truly do not know reality from game, maybe a kind of real psychosis or something? I’d imagine that the right kind of people could easily suffer such a mental thing. In which case the ending makes perfect sense because it gets you to think about that kind of thing. In which case it’s absolute genius

    Reply
  5. m27

    now that im thinking bout it more. they are still in a game at the end.
    The dog was the only creature not hooked up to the video game yet traveled thru all layers consistently as the thing that delivers the weapon at the right time. the ultimate npc

    Reply
  6. Joe

    Unless I missed something this movie was just ok. I liked the weird factor but it seemed nothing more than an average movie with the nested reality novelty.

    Reply
  7. Ben P.

    Yeah, “hokey” simply writes off that this movie was a rushed, under budget film that proudly overpaid for A-list actor hype. It was released as close to the blockbuster-eye–candy-of-the-ages The Matrix, (still the 10 best box office openers in history, and number one most sold DVD/Blu Ray for over a decade, all while changing special effects to where every action film since incorporates an emulated “bullet time”). This can be said about countless intel-look-alike films of major proportions where one studio spied on another’s major production to rush a rework of their idea. In other words, Deep Impact was to Armageddon as eXistenZ was to The Matrix.

    Personally, even though The Matrix had a budget twice as high, both productions still played off a well known “Simulation Theory.” Right along with the movie Inception among many others, Simulation Theory is age old. Many agree that it’s less likely we’re in base reality as we live and breathe, or as I write this response you’re reading. Elon Musk, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, even the late Stephen Hawking, were all firm believers that at our current rate – we’ll face the same dilemma of crisis as a species when we realize our VR is as real as what we think is base reality. At that moment, every brain in a jar will wonder, “then wait… is this world, outside the game I’m playing that’s so realistic, the true world?” Have you seen Elon’s project Neuralink?

    I still think eXistenZ hardly evoked anything but confusion and disdain from myself, personally. And I DON’T consider myself a harsh critic. I’m a massive movie buff in practice, and consider my analysis very forgiving. Art is beautiful, and I appreciate most films, even terrible ones, if they deliver. When I was a kid working at Hollywood video, I took 100% advantage of the free rental policy for employees and at one point had rented over ~725 titles inside of one year. I watched every one of them. That was over 22 years ago, and I’ve bought a few movies a week since across five major platforms, two of them hardware long dissolved. I’m saying I scour the internet sometimes, to find new content. Mind-benders are probably my absolute favorite. As an enthusiast with a six figure salary, I usually thoroughly enjoy a motion picture which doesn’t have me picking apart the ending, before I’m even half way through the second act.

    This film was pretty horrible, even in execution. The only in-depth “holy cow, that’s incredibly deep” moments people had from it were self constructed from desperation to find more of non-eXistenT content. It’s self manifested. Same is said for folks who deep dive into fan speculation over most films. Yes, including the earlier praised The Matrix. In the industry, the theory and production are the same: create an intuitive work of art, focus on absorbing and gaining the intimacy of the audience, then leave them wanting more after credits roll. This one, sorry to say, never did that for me. Just one person’s opinion, sorry if its too negative. (Everyone needs a little push-back though, right? Instead of a mob who simply agrees, being the only ones to jump on the bandwagon of praise and stroke egos like most video game developers have been doing for too many years now, putting out fires.)

    Reply
    • Memoric

      I disagree with (almost) everything you said.
      I won’t get into it though since it’s Art, & everyone gets what they want from it.
      But…
      – “Deep Impact” had nothing to do with “Armageddon”, other than the “Big Space Rock Incoming” theme.
      – “eXistenZ” had nothing to do with “The Matrix”, other than the “this is not the reality you’re looking for” theme.
      “Dark City” vs “The Matrix” would be a way better example here.

      Reply
      • Ben P.

        If you read it correctly, I was implying the very reason its production was rushed, was to compete on the same theme as another studio producing a film at the same time. This is happened in Hollywood since these studios existed.

        You made my points FOR me, and even supported them with their similes. Dark City is nothing like the Matrix. One is where an entire city is made to look like Earth, and they’re REALLY there. They’re kidnapped, but that IS their reality. Held for scientific experimentation to help the ALIEN race survive extinction. The other doesn’t have aliens, nor outer space, but isn’t about a community boundary that ends on a beach shoreline, rather, their entire world is synthetic.

        They haven’t been kidnapped in the Matrix, they were BORN into slavery. (All of this is made very clear in the film, I’m not sure how you could even draw any sort of comparison.) Existenz on the other hand, is EXACTLY the same theme. That being a digital/synthetic, ALTERNATE reality entirely, a facsimile. In Dark City we find the protagonist and his fellow characters have been taken from Earth, had memories altered or added, and the “city” isn’t at all what they expected; (a space faring ecosystem) yet it is STILL their base reality – not “Simulation Theory.”

    • Lisa

      Did you really imply you are too good to be on a site where folks discuss theories about a film then leave a comment as long as you did?

      Reply

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