What is there to say about the writing machines? According to the IMDB trivia page, Cronenberg wrote the script to this movie while he was playing a character (a psychiatrist, as I remember) in a Clive Barker film who would put on a mask and slaughter entire hotels because the mask told him to. The trivia page also mentions that he wrote it on a Toshiba laptop, which would have been suitably monstrous at the time. One of the most interesting procedures in psychoanalytic literary interpretation to me has always been what to make of writers who were not innocent of psychoanalytic concepts. The feedback becomes very difficult to entangle in those writers aware through cultural osmosis or primary reading (or actual analysis) of psychoanalysis. Cronenberg presents an interesting case here because, as even a quick glance through the collection of his interviews shows, he’s well acquainted with many of the most likely theoretical explanations that many people trained in film studies or literary analysis would turn to when interpreting the film.
This was primarily a secondary consideration for me in watching it, however. I’m more interested in Cronenberg’s reality-distortion effects. I’ve taught eXistenZ several times, and there’s a clear continuity between the two. (And it’s particularly interesting that Cronenberg saw the video game as the logical extension of Burrough’s imagination. I believe that Burroughs has had some influence on post-McLuhanite media studies.) Cronenberg’s visceral depiction of distorted realities contrasts interestingly with the literary feel of those presented by Dick, or the inevitably sterile depictions in much science fictional treatments of the concepts. Gene Wolfe’s Thag and nins stories, reprinted in Endangered Species (which also feature an analysis) are notable for the grittiness of their presentation, if not the granularity. I’m probably not being clear enough about what I mean here, and I don’t want to start talking about the stickiness of the real, much less its desert.