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The Matrix and eXistenZ

Now that we’ve watched both films (which were released a mere month apart [Mar 31, 1999 for The Matrix; Apr 23, 1999 for eXistenZ]), let’s have a conversation about them!

Below, post a brief paragraph about your reactions to the two films. In particular, say a bit about how you think they compare in terms of content, thematics, tone, style, etc. Once people have started posting, you can also respond to points raised by others. If someone raises a point about your claim, feel free to add a response as well. Make sure you indicate your paragraphs with your name or initials at the end — bjr

The Matrix and eXistenZ are both movies that focus on humankind and its interaction with the matrix. Ultimately, both films portray the negative effects that can occur with the advancement of technology and the creation of the matrix. In The Matrix, humankind has become a source of energy for the technology that has taken over. In eXistenZ, the characters find themselves playing a video game that takes them into a matrix where the creator of this game is attempting to escape her murder. At the end of eXistenZ the true creator of the game is killed in order to save reality and in The Matrix the goal of the characters is to ultimately destroy the matrix and return to earth and live in their human reality. Personally, I disliked eXistenZ because I felt that the cinematography, acting, and plot were underdeveloped and bad, especially compared to The Matrix, which had a more serious tone and a very captivating plot. The special effects in The Matrix are excellent (especially for being a 1990’s film) and can be compared to those found in movies today, whereas eXistenZ had very poor special effects. Both films have very good stories and share a similar theme, but The Matrix did an excellent job in portraying the story while eXistenZ was cheesy and could benefit from a remake.  -Nicole RF

While I do love The Matrix, I don’t think it’s fair to say that eXistenZ is a poorly scripted movie with an underdeveloped plot. In general I don’t think that you can even rank the two of them on the same scale. The Matrix was a high budget mega-production that had the fingerprints of Hollywood all over it. It was beautifully filmed, well edited, nicely scripted, and incredibly exciting. In contrast, eXistenZ was a much more cerebral movie. It left didn’t quite explain every single occurrence, intentionally leaving much to the imagination. There was no clear satisfying ending: Do you think they were still in the game at the end or not? But Cronenberg does this in order to make you think about the ramifications of technology. It also didn’t have a defined “good” and “bad” like The Matrix did (Humans vs. Machines). It let you come to your own conclusions. In a way, this is much more powerful from a philosophical standpoint. – Zach

I disagree with Zach, I don’t think that having a low-budget is any excuse for eXistenZ poorly formulated plot. I would love to hope that they left gaping holes and no explanations on purpose, but I feel that they realized they had no way to finish the movie and tie all the loose strings, so they created a convenient, ambiguous ending through the final open-ended question. These things aside, The Matrix and eXistenZ do present differing interpretations of human’s interaction with cyberspace. In The Matrix, the resistance, Neo, Trinity, etc., must “jack in” to cyberspace using rough mechanical equipment inserted into their brain that is uncomfortable. In contrast, the characters of eXistenZ massage a mass of animal parts and technology that is connected to their bioport through an umbilical cord. Allegra, the video game creator, even shows attachment and worry constantly for the object. I agree with Nicole in that both films are persuasive towards humanity finding “reality” rather than constantly living in the fake world of the matrix, but I feel that they present contrasting relationships towards their ways of reaching cyberspace. eXistenZ displays a sense of human connection, through the biological connections and care for the mechanism, while The Matrix shows its distaste of anything to do with the matrix through its protrayal of their cold and uncomfortable entrance to cyberspace.       –Kaitlin B

Both The Matrix and eXistenZ ask the question “How do we know what is real?” It is the way that the films focus on the question which makes the difference. In eXistenZ, the games that the film characters play becomes their world and it becomes impossible to tell, for viewers as well as the characters, at any point whether or not they are in fact still playing a fact. Reality becomes irrelevant. It is possible that the entire span of the film takes place in a virtual reality and this suggests that the lines have blurred so much that the distinction between reality and a game is impossible to make. So it becomes “If we create a simulated reality which is so compelling, how do we know what it is real?” Just like how can we ever be sure we’re awake. Somewhat boring. The Matrix is more concerned about how the definition of reality can be bent. It’s “If we create a simulated reality which is so compelling, what is it that makes it any less real than reality? What is ‘reality’?” In the scene where Morpheus brings Neo into the localized Matrix, they discuss these questions. Morpheus says something along the lines of if being able to feel, see, smell, etc. something makes it real, then the Matrix can be considered real. The film seems to suggest that reality is subjective, that it all boils down to how our minds perceive what is on the outside. One of the powerful things about The Matrix that is lacking from eXistenZ is that at some point you wonder how we can know that we’re not ourselves in some form of Matrix and the answer is really that we can’t. The fact is that we could just as easily be living in a simulated world etc. etc. This is almost a cliched philosophical idea, and it seems almost pointless to think about. But that’s the best part. The fact that it is on some levels irrelevant that what we experience might not be the “truth” says something about reality, that it is really relative. We care about this question about as much as the people stuck in the Matrix might. For them the Matrix is reality just as much as the Nebuchadnezzar and Zion are reality for those outside it. Then the question becomes is “true” reality actually more valuable and if so why? Is ignorance bliss? Blue pill or red pill?
The reason why I enjoyed The Matrix more than eXistenZ isn’t the special effects, although that does help. It’s because to me, and I’m waiting to potentially change my mind on this tomorrow, the Matrix just explores a lot more than eXistenZ and does so more deeply and thoroughly. Also eXistenZ really is tainted by what appear to be plot holes and other flaws. So in the former trout farm, Yevgeniy asks the same question twice because he is stuck on a game loop. This makes sense to us because as far as we know at this point only the Allegra and Pikul are players in the game. That’s why many other people in the game world at times appear catatonic and non-responsive. As a side note it really doesn’t make sense that a game that is so unimaginably complicated in every other way that it can virtually simulate reality would have such blatantly visible triggers. But then at the end of the film we learn that these people were in fact other players in the game. What? Then why were they stuck in a loop like a non-player character? Another thing that bothered me about eXistenZ is that the film seems quite obsessed with the idea of design, seen by the fact that one of the main characters takes on the role of a star designer who is constantly worried about the game which she has so painstakingly crafted and is hunted down by many for being a designer, and yet it does not ever actually explore the idea or process of design. We know nothing about what is involved in creating one of the games which is central to the film. I want to see how locking yourself in a room for four years results in something that can be played on a mutant amphibian pod, or how one person can take on a project that complex by herself and yet somehow know almost nothing about the world inside it. It doesn’t make much sense.
-Sasha Daddeh

The Matrix and Existenz both focus on human interaction with cyberspace. However, the way in which each cyberspace is created contrasts the messages that each movie is sending. In The Matrix (great movie), it is the machines that create the matrix. On the other hand, humans have created the artificial world in Existenz (just horrible). From this, one might infer that The Matrix is arguing that we as humans must not invest too much power in technology because at a certain point, it will be able to control us. In contrast, Existenz is making the statement that we cannot trust each other; that the human mind–the direct creator of the “movie’s” artificial world–is in a sense, the enemy. Another inference I got from Existenz is that it was so bad:  the plot was lacking, the ending was lacking, and the special effects were lacking (especially when juxtaposed with The Matrix).          —Love, Tyler Hechler

As technological advances began to reshape our world at the turn of the 20th century, everyone was attempting to theorize what exactly the repercussions of such a considerable change would be. This question manifested itself in many forms; one of which being film, and more specifically, The Matrix and eXistenZ. Each film attempts to bring its viewers into a new world, just as technology did to the world at the time the films were released. The question of what is real is paramount to each film, yet the line between the unplugged real world and the computer-generated Matrix was much clearer than the similar distinction in eXistenZ. Both the viewer and the characters in eXistenz are unsure of which domain they are finding themselves in, which added an unnecessary (in my opinion) layer of confusion to the film. My opinion of how each film was able to accomplish its message is slightly bias, as The Matrix is perhaps my favorite movie. As others have mentioned, I thought The Matrix was a much more polished film than eXistenZ. The plot was fuller, dialogue was more thought provoking, and costumes, set design, and action scenes were all impeccable.    -Matt Hirsch

Though both of the movies leave much to the imagination in terms of explaining various objects, terms, and the overall worlds they are set in, eXistenZ is terrible. Throughout eXistenZ, I was extremely frustrated and confused because there seemed to be too many missing pieces to the puzzle. Why is there a two headed lizard amphibian in the movie? Other than the fact Pikul must eat it to advance in the game, there seems to be no point to its existence. We don’t have those creatures on earth, so why put it there? Why is this game so important anyways? Why wouldn’t you back up your files or your software program on another disk if you have been working on it for 10 years? How would and organically made game even work on your body without having permanent damage to your brain? eXistenZ is unrealistic and leaves the audience angry at all the characters, especially Allegra for being careless and selfish. The Matrix certainly has some confusing moments, but the director made an clear effort to explain the matrix to the audience through Neo. We go through the journey together, asking questions and getting some answers along the way. Like many in the class have posted, the difference between the two movies is that The Matrix touches on many philosophical ideas and gives enough background for the audience to really think, while eXistenZ just leaves us thinking “so what now?”.  – Alexie Poch

After having watched both The Matrix and eXistenZ I found myself reminded of the primary plot points in the movie.  Both movies seemed to try and distory reality by entrapping the body and holding the body in some form of stasis, thus making me look furthur into the movie to see what made them so different.  The one thing I found that made a distinct difference in this plot point was the method by which they suspend the mind: machine versus organic and organic versus organic.  In The Matrix the entire movie can be traced back to fighting against the machines to free the mind of the people inside of the matrix and to allow the people outside the matrix to live in peace; this fight makes a much more understandable side for people to take and allows the viewer to easily be able to pick a side.  In eXistenZ the fact that it is humans fighting humans over distorting reality makes it slightly harder for the viewer to choose a side.  On the one hand one can side with the game developers and view that it is only a game, but on the other hand the terrorists have a more motivated point by trying to deliver swift justice to the ones who manipulate reality.  This confusing dilema is, in my opinion, why most of the class did not like eXistenZ, but believe it adds more depth to the movies. – Dustin Chandler

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