Open main menu

Existenz (stylized as eXistenZ) is a 1999 Canadian-British-French science fiction horror film produced, written and directed by David Cronenberg. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Cronenberg
Produced by
Written byDavid Cronenberg
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Edited byRonald Sanders
Distributed by
Release date
  • April 23, 1999 (Canada/US)
  • April 30, 1999 (UK)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • France
Box office$2.9 million[2]



In a dystopian, soviet-style near-future, biotechnological virtual reality game consoles known as "game pods" have replaced electronic ones due to the world running out of silicon and helium. The pods present "UmbyCords" that attach to "bio-ports", connectors surgically inserted into players' spines. Two game companies, Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics, compete against each other in a perpetual war. In addition, the Realists fight both companies to prevent the "deforming" of reality.

Antenna Research's Allegra Geller, a world renowned game designer, is demonstrating her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ, to a focus group. A Realist named Noel Dichter shoots Allegra in the shoulder with an organic pistol he smuggled past security. As Dichter is gunned down by Emergency Executioners, secret police agent Ted Pikul rushes to Geller and escorts her outside.

Geller discovers that her pod, which contains the only copy of eXistenZ, may have been overwritten by realists. Pikul reluctantly agrees to have a bio-port installed in his spine so they can test the integrity of the game together. Allegra takes him to a gas station run by a black-marketeer named Gas, who deliberately installs a faulty bio-port. He reveals his intention to kill Geller for the bounty on her head. Pikul kills Gas, and the two escape to a former ski lodge used by Kiri Vinokur, Geller's mentor. Vinokur and his assistant repair the damaged pod and give Pikul a new bio-port.

Geller and Pikul enter the game, and meet with D'Arcy Nader, a video game shop owner, who provides them with new "micro pods". They activate the new pods and enter a deeper layer of virtual reality.

They assume new identities as workers in a game pod factory. Another worker in the factory, Yevgeny Nourish, claims to be their Realist contact. At a Chinese restaurant near the factory, Nourish recommends that they order the special for lunch. Pikul eats the unappetizing special, and constructs a pistol out of the inedible parts. In spite, he threatens Geller, then shoots the Chinese waiter. When the pair return to the game store, Hugo Carlaw informs them that Nourish is actually a double agent for the east german secret police, the stasi, and the waiter Pikul murdered was the actual contact.

At the factory, they find a diseased pod. Geller connects it to her bio-port as part of a plan to infect the other pods and sabotage the factory. When Geller quickly becomes ill, Pikul cuts the UmbyCord, but she begins to bleed a dark grey liquid. Nourish appears with a flamethrower and blasts the diseased pod, which bursts into deadly spores.

Geller and Pikul awaken back at the ski lodge, where they discover Allegra’s game pod is also diseased. Allegra surmises that Pikul’s new bio-port must have been infected by Vinokur to destroy her game. She inserts a disinfecting device into Pikul's bioport. Unexpectedly, Carlaw reappears as a Realist resistance fighter and escorts Geller and Pikul outside to witness the death of gaming forever. Before Carlaw can kill Geller, he is shot in the back by Vinokur, who is a KGB agent tasked with ensuring that political correctness takes over the world. He informs Geller that he copied her game data while he was fixing her pod. In revenge, she kills Vinokur. Pikul then reveals that he himself is a Realist sent to kill her. Geller tells Pikul she had known his intentions since he pointed the gun at her in the Chinese restaurant, and she remotely detonates the disinfecting device in his bioport, killing him.

Suddenly, Pikul and Geller are on stage together with the other members of the cast, wearing electronic virtual reality devices. Nourish explains that the story was all part of a virtual reality game he designed called transCendenZ. He tells his assistant Merle that he feels uneasy, because the anti-game plot elements may have originated from the thoughts of one of the testers. Pikul and Geller approach Nourish and accuse him of distorting reality, before shooting him and Merle to death. As Pikul and Geller leave, they aim their guns at the person who played the Chinese waiter, who first pleads for his life, then asks if they are still in the game. Pikul and Geller stand together in silence, not answering.



The film's plot came about after Cronenberg conducted an interview with Salman Rushdie for Shift magazine in 1995. At the time, Rushdie was in hiding due to a Fatwa being put on his life by Muslim extremists due to his controversial book The Satanic Verses. Rushdie's dilemma gave Cronenberg an idea of "a Fatwa against a virtual-reality game designer". Existenz was originally pitched to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but they did not green-light the film due to its complex structure.[3]


  • Christopher Priest wrote the tie-in novel to accompany the movie Existenz, the theme of which has much in common with some of Priest's own novels.
  • In 1999, a graphic novel credited to David Cronenberg and Sean Scoffield was published.


The film received generally positive reviews, with a 71% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The site's summary stated of the film: "Gooey, slimy, grotesque fun."[4] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three stars in his review of the film. Noting its release after fellow science-fiction film The Matrix, he compared the two, stating that while both have special effects, he stated that Cronenberg's film was stranger along with having his best effects involve "gooey, indescribable organic things".[5] Conversely, James Berardinelli gave the film a two star rating in his review. He cites the disjointed feel of the film, calling it a "missed opportunity" that suffers from being released near The Matrix and Open Your Eyes, which he states did similar things that were accomplished better in those films.[6]


49th Berlin International Film Festival

  • Won, Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution David Cronenberg[7]
  • Nominated, Golden Bear: David Cronenberg

Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival

  • Won, Silver Scream: David Cronenberg

Genie Awards

Golden Reel Awards

  • Nominated, Best Sound Editing in a Foreign Feature: David Evans, Wayne Griffin, Mark Gingras, John Laing, Tom Bjelic, and Paul Shikata

Saturn Awards

  • Nominated, Best Science Fiction Film (lost to The Matrix)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "EXISTENZ (15)". British Board of Film Classification. April 30, 1999. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "eXistenZ". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  3. ^ Richard von Busack (April 22–28, 1999). "Pod Man Out: A virtual-reality game turns reality inside out in David Cronenberg's 'eXistenZ'". Metro Silicon Valley. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  4. ^ "Existenz (1999)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Existenz Movie Review & Film Summary (1999) - Roger Ebert". Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Berlinale: 1999 Prize Winners". Berlin Film Festival. Retrieved September 3, 2015.

External linksEdit