April 24, 1999 [The Matrix, Open Your Eyes, eXistenZ]

When John Donne told Death to be not proud, he asserted in the end, "One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, / And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."  But what if we begin asleep? What are we waking to then?  In "Valentine's Day," Springsteen sings, "They say if you die in your sleep you really die in your bed"--and within a month three science fiction fables--The Matrix, Open Your Eyes, eXistenZ--wonder if that's true--and even, for a while, stop caring if it is--and here comes another song, the Beatles letting it go:

When I wake up early in the morning
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream, float up stream

Please, don't wake me, no, don't shake me
Leave me where I am, I'm only sleeping

Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind, I think they're crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find there's no need, there's no need.

Ah, if only the people in the movies were so comfy in their dreams.  But they want to wake up, they want to know, dammit, what's real and what isn't.  In The Matrix it gets messianic--but not properly solemn, not even too sappy, just ultra-cool as every little bullet casing--and are there so many in the worlds, any one of them at all?--clatters about in slo-mo, with nary a shot hitting home.  Keanu Reeves stares blankly, perfect in the role, a mild-mannered machine, a kind of spiritual Terminator--great wardrobe, firm set to the mouth, sunglasses square on the face.

But in Open Your Eyes the cute Spanish guy lives without hope, strangely mangled and murdering, his mask straight out of the past: Les yeux sans visage forty years ago, the French girl in the mad scientist's castle waiting, her own face also mangled, her mask also turning her into eyes without a face.  In the end, the Spaniard decides it's a game, one he did not make up but must play, and he takes the plunge right off the roof to see how it's going to end.

But of course it takes Cronenberg to play for keeps: eXistenZ imagines an imaginary world--and not just because it's in the future--where video games plug right into you like something out of his other nasty little diamonds--Shivers, Rabid, They Came from Within--and of course the closest relative, Videodrome--or maybe the grandaddy, The Fly: a flash of light and whiff of ozone and you're born again--or born deeper into the game, layers going down like Rome, the city-on-a-city-on-a-city-on-a-city-and-on-and-on, and down you go with it until you're still in the game--you see, it's like the Beatles sing, everybody else is crazy, not the sleepyhead, the dreamer who floats--but with Cronenberg it's a nightmare--I'm thinking of Stephen King, his clown who tells the little boys that everything floats down there.

I used to wonder how someone could go to the movies, a really good one--or a really loud one--and fall asleep.  Jean did it during the big standoff at the end of Tim Burton's Batman, and one of our little girls slumbered through Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  I'm going to have to try it myself some day.  Maybe I'll dream about falling asleep in the movies.


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  2. Open Your Eyes immersed me in its one all-important question: is he awake or asleep? Did the end, after all's gone black, really answer the question? Should I breathe in relief?

  3. @Aaron Reese: Like the fellow says in eXistenZ: "Are we still in the game?"


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