For me, eXistenZ is a film that is fairly confusing at best. If I’m not mistaken the film was released before The Matrix and had the same concept for the world the characters resided. A computer generated world inside the real world. In eXistenZ the protagonists start off in a room, they are about to beta test a revolutionary computer game called “eXistenZ”, the scene is set in such a way that we are led to believe that video games have finally reached the ultimate goal of becoming fully immersive and utterly real, not so much virtual reality but complete reality.
Each actor is given a role that, in the game, they may or may not complete without knowing. This is where things already start to cross over. We as the audience are transported into a fictional world, viewed through a mechanical/computerized object (the camera) that is itself populated by fictional characters whom are just about to do the exact same thing. “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe. ” 1 berger We are told to believe that computerised realities identical to our own are now possible, and that these people will be “porting” into one.
Nobody today, at least that I know, believes that our reality is computerised, simply because in our reality…a computer generated reality that is indistinguishable from our own has not been created. But if we all believed that, would we see this world differently as in eXistenZ? “An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved – for a few moments or a few centuries. ” 2 berger.
Once we are “ported” into the computerized reality of their reality, we realise that what we are viewing is not what we are seeing for ourselves, possibly not even in the same time or space. The camera is providing us with a series of still images that were captured by a “mechanical” eye (this alone provides us with a view of the world which is unlike our own i. e. widescreen, resolution, perspective etc). These images are producing a world that is similar to ours but unreal and from the viewpoint like that of a ghost or an angel (called “free cam” or “death cam” in the video game world”.
The ability to view events from anywhere in the world whenever you want. ). This world then takes us into another world inside that one which is viewed the same way, except this world is supposed to be the false reality. I sometimes think this can be part of the explanation for the oddities we see…. like placing the lens of a camera next to the viewfinder of another camera and taking a picture. As your eye, a natural camera in itself sees through the first lens, the image is distorted via that lens and then the other lens. What is it you will really be seeing at the end?
In the film we are always viewing the events through three mediums, our eyes, through the camera, which views those events through a virtual camera in the game. We can never be totally sure that the images we see represent the corresponding knowledge that we assign to it in our reality. Everything in eXistenZ looks exactly the same as our reality but doesn’t have the same meaning…. several tiers over. But whose eyes are we actually viewing these whole series of events from? A spectator. But who is this spectator? Are there testers ported into the game as mere observers? Are they developers or publishers?
Or simply joe public who has no direct connection with the corporate mechanics of eXistenZ? In our reality, when you play a multiplayer game such as this and you die, you become a spectator…a ghost, until the end of the game, where you “respawn” (get another chance). Quite simply, whose interpretation of the events are we watching? Two quotes relating to music and technology but I believe are relevant; “”Liveness,” in short, whether defined in social or physiological terms, is not essential to musical meaning. On the other hand, it is equally clear that to record a work is just as much to interpret it as to perform it in any other way.
” 3 Simon Firth “I don’t believe the engineer should intrude between the composer, or performer…” 4 Goddard The “music” is the game, the “performer” being the people in the game, the “composer” is the game itself, the story and the “engineer” is the person or entity who is controlling our view of the final score (In game mechanics this could be referred to as the “Game Engine”, this decides what happens, how, why, when and where. ) The above quote can only exude one outcome, that the game should be viewed from each and every person by their own means in order to absorb the complete truth.
Right now we are watching the events through someone else’s interpretation, each cut and angle change being a splice of the composition…a rewrite of the events. By the end of the film we find out unequivocally that because of this we have only half of the story. But we do realise that no matter what, the composition remains the same…. it’s just the way we hear it that is different. eXistenZ has what’s called a “linear” plotline but a “non linear” game play mechanic, there is only one outcome but the way in which you reach that outcome can have infinite possibilities, much like our lives.
Existence is linear, but life is not. We will all die eventually, but how we die will have an infinite number of possibilities. A composer can write a piece of music that is the story, which never changes, but it is the performer and engineer that tell this story, depending on them both, the end will always be the same but the way in which the story is told will always be different. One thing that was mentioned by Walter Benjamin is that, “For the film, what matters primarily is that the actor represents himself to the public before the camera, rather than representing someone else.
” 5 benjamin This maybe true, but the very nature of this film throws this ideal into chaos. The actors are playings actors in a film that has them playing actors in a game…that by the end of the film, has them playing actors of actors in some other situation. This quote I simply don’t agree with, it also seems to me that this is the complete opposite of what a method actor tries to accomplish on stage, which is to embody and represent someone else completely without thought.
This goes against what Berger said about us relating what we see to what we know. If the actors on stage all represented themselves completely to the audience other than the camera before the part they were playing, then what we as an audience know about the character in relation to the actor playing the character conflict and ruin the immersion, it is easier to become someone else in front of the camera, that doesn’t know anything, than the audience that knows everything.
The whole point of eXistenZ is to make you believe that these average people believe they are someone else who in turn believe they are someone else. At the end of the day this is what the object of the game was, to embody the character of someone else that has been thrust into a plot in a world that you have no knowledge of. This is the reason that people play video games. To escape the mundane trials and tribulations of everyday life and become a part of something that is out of the ordinary.
Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI (CGI is a term that I find horrible, to me it is either Digital Animation or Digital Modeling, together Digital Media. CGI has connotations of the low tech ‘80’s to many people. ) is the main ingredient in this, where as the original way to escape was to either read a book, act in a play or hear a tale…now we are heading towards the era where you can become part of a tale that is ultra realistic. Where you can enter a virtual world that can fabricate the ends of your imagination and beyond.
eXistenz is where the digital industry wants to end up, the applications of fabricating a reality that is false for individuals that cannot cope with the “real” thing are endless. If youre bored at work, why not become Bruce Willis during you’re lunch break? Want to experience terror? Port in and visit Silent Hill after a hard day at work. It all sounds simple enough, but right now we are at a point where we know for definite within our reality, where the line is between virtual and real.
The day that our technology reaches the levels depicted in eXistenZ is the day that the troubles will start. This I think is one of the main lessons to me in this film. When do we say “enough” to technology? When do we stop? Or do we stop in one avenue and continue developing in others? A revolutionary game such as eXistenZ could wreak havoc on people who do not have the capacity to discern their reality from that of the software or hardware.
It even has the possibility to blur the lines and boundaries you already have defined, or destroy your mental health completely. At the very end of the film we are enlightened to the fact that eXistenZ is not real, that it is a product of the game “tranScendanZ”. It is a game within a game within a film. The final line of the film “Are we still in the game” relates to how we see the world, relative. Who knows if that was the real reality or just the game, to me it looked very much like the two protagonists didn’t know either, or even questioned it.
Perhaps they weren’t even “real” participants of the game, but mere NPC’s (non player characters). But this is where Digital Media is taking us, it’s job is to create the world as accurately as it can within the realms of it’s software, ironically designed by entities that are bound by laws of a universe not completely understood by the aformentioned but with none of the rules that limit our existence (The Matrix for example, identical reality, but the rules could be bent or broken by those who knew how to).
For instance, if I wanted to walk through a wall right now I couldn’t, however, in a game it is as simple as typing a code into the console (usually “noclip 1”, 0 being false, 1 being true). But who is to say that I couldn’t walk through that wall now? Maybe it is as simple as being enlightened to the truth like Neo from The Matrix? In our lives we are exposed to images from the past, present and future that hold no bearing on our existence at that present time we experience them. But these images, performances or experiences can affect us in ways that we cannot perceive.
The photographer, camera operator or composer does not know this either. But at the time of them creating these art works they are fabricating a reality and set of circumstances for others that have a multitude of meanings. There can be one definitive interpretation, but this will change depending on who is viewing it and how. Right now this essay almost makes sense to me, it may not make sense to you, but how do you make sense of things that have several meanings unless you were the person who conceived the premise in the first place? The answer is that you cannot.
A picture taken one century for one purpose and meaning can translate as something else in another century. An actors affect in film during one era can mean something different on stage in the same era and an music studio can completely rewrite the meaning and feel of music without changing the notes or instruments. It is all down to perception. eXistenZ, Vanilla Sky, The Matrix, The Machinist, Gozu and many others all rely on images that are perceived as in any other art forms. Our own experiences colour the original “thought” of the creator, regardless of that creators perception.