Cue-by-cue – EXISTENZ (Howard Shore)

Howard Shore’s score to David Cronenberg’s movie eXistenZ is one of my favourite. RCA Victor’s release of the score in 1999 is typical for a non-speciality label’s release of a soundtrack. Unlike speciality labels such as Film Score Monthly and Intrada whose releases usually features an in-depth run-down of each track (including a summary of action in the film covered by the specific music of the track), there was no in-depth information on how the music fitted with the film. All the information contained in the 4-page CD booklet amounted to some music credits, thanks to various people, a tracklisting and some black-and-white film publicity shots.

With films and music that I like, I very much enjoy seeing how the music fits into a film and I remember spending far too much time in front of the TV watching (and re-watching) films such as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, noting down what was happening in each track. Recently, I decided to do this for eXistenZ and so below is a cue-by-cue rundown of each track of the film with a summary of what’s happening in each track. (All timings relate to the CD times.)

eXistenZ – Howard Shore

01. eXistenZ by Antenna: Main titles play through this track. White credits appear on dark background then continue over a background graphic of surreal shapes, forms, images; some of the images having hints of an organic structure.

02. MetaFlesh Game-Pods: A group of game players are gathered together to take part in an eXistenZ game test launch. Volunteers are on-stage and the cue begins when Allegra Geller activates the game-pod to begin the game. We see a number of the game-pods writhing on the knees of the game players and we cut to Pikul & Levi as they discuss Allegra Geller’s apparent shyness. Levi volunteers the opinion that stated that she would prefer it if she remain within her game. We cut to the newly-arrived Dichter (~00:47) sitting in the audience as he removes what appears to be his game-pod from his shoulder bag. 1:09-1:46: Dichter removes what appears to be a gun from his game-pod and purposefully walks forward onto the stage, pointing his “gristle-gun” at Allegra. He shouts “Death to the demoness Allegra Geller” and shoots Allegra, turns and as Levi approaches him he shoots Levi also. Dichter is himself shot by Pikul. 1:46-end of cue: Dichter is shot repeatedly as he lies on the floor. Levi instructs Pikul to take Allegra and leave. Pikul examines briefly Dichter’s gristle gun (~2:09) and takes it with him as he gathers Allegra off the floor and they leave the building, making their way to waiting jeep. Cutting to an interior shot (~2:56) Pikul glances behind them as they escape the scene.

03. reality bleed through effect: Pikul and Allegra have stopped to have “an intimate moment together – the removal of the “bullet” from Allegra’s shoulder. 00:00-00:30: The cue begins as Pikul digs out the bullet and realising that it is a human tooth, shows it to Allegra. 00:30-1:20: She asks to see the gun and examines it. A theremin plays as we see Allegra examine the clip of human teeth she removes from the gun’s handle (~00:45). What follows is some brief exposition explaining that the design is able to get past any metal detectors. 1:20-end of cue: Cut to view of jeep driving through the country and arriving at a “Motel”.

04. UmbyCord: In the motel room, Allegra is concerned about her game-pod. 00:00-end of cue: The cue begins as Pikul shows concern for Allegra’s own concern for her game-pod after the trauma in the church earlier. She tells Pikul that the only way to tell if the game-pod is not contaminated is to play eXistenZ with someone who is “friendly” – she asks Pikul if he is friendly. Pikul agrees to have a bioport fitted and explains that to have one fitted in the country and at that time of night is to “drive up to the local Country Gas Station”. The cue ends as we segue to an external view of a Country Gas Station.

05. organic pod technology: At the country gas station “Gas” illegally fits bioports. As Gas attempts to fit Pikul with a bioport. The cue begins as we see Allegra “experiencing” the garage forecourt. 00:00-00:45: Allegra passes her hands over the concrete of the garage, feeling every contour of the surface. Slowly, she moves to the pumps, picking up a handful of dirt on the way. She smells the gas vapors from the pump itself. 00:45-1:20: Allegra turns to face the gas pumps, the gas station building in the background and tosses a pebble at the pump. She listens to the noise the pebble makes as it hits the pump. She spins slowly, taking allowing her senses to absorb all they can. She hears a noise and turns. She sees a two-headed creature moving around the base of one of the pumps (~1:05). We watch as the amphibian climbs to the top of the pump. 1:20-end of cue: Segue to inside the gas station and we see Gas locating the bioport site at the base of Pikul’s spine with his studfinder.

07. a genuine game urge: Pikul and Allegra have escaped the Country Gas Station and establish that the game-pod needs fixing after apparently being sabotaged by Gas. 00:00-00:36: The cue begins as we see the ski boot that houses Allegra’s game-pod in the back seat of their jeep. The shot segues to the pair arriving at a secluded ski club chalet. The car stops outside the chalet and the get out. Pikul sees the two-headed lizard on the bonnet of the car. 00:36-end of cue: Pikul comments on the “huge bug” and Allegra corrects him, telling him that it’s a “mutated two-headed amphibian…A sign of the times.” As Pikul and Allegra head off to the chalet the camera focuses on the mutation and we hear the eerie sound of the theremin on the soundtrack (~00:59). At ~1:14 we segue to inside the building and see Vinokur climbing down some steps carrying a specimen of some description. The cue ends as he chastises a colleague.

09. original Marway tissue architecture: Taking refuge in one of the guest chalets eXistenZ must be played to determine if the game-pod has suffered any lasting damage. 00:00-end of cue: The cue begins as Allegra inserts the cord into Pikul’s newly installed bioport. Pikul is worried about how he can he “compete with the designer of the system” and Allegra allays his fears. Allegra activates the game-pod and as the music reaches a climax at the end of the cue Pikul suddenly looks upwards and stands as he now sees the chalet interior change to the interior of D’Arcy Nader’s Game Emporium.

10. Viral Ecstasy: In a backroom of the Emporium Nader has given Pikul and Allegra each a micro-pod in order to download their characters for the game. 00:00-1:44: The cue begins as they both unwrap their micro-pods and go about installing them. Allegra is surprised that Pikul’s micro-pod disappears entirely into his bioport. Pikul asks if she wants him to do her micro-pod (~00:48). She enthusiastically agrees! He painstakingly prepares Allegra’s bioport for fitting of the micro-pod and he attempts to orient the micro-pod (~1:11). The pod slips in (~1:20). Pikul then has an urge and he inserts his tongue into Allegra’s bioport (~1:28). As Pikul apologises Allegra kisses him. 1:44-end of cue: A period of intimacy begins and as things progress Pikul begins to become concerned with what their real bodies are doing, whether they are safe or not. Once Allegra calms his fears they resume their intimacy. The last few seconds suddenly finds Pikul on the assembly line of the Trout Farm.

11. trout farm: 00:00-00:52: The cue begins as Pikul realises that he is someone called Larry. He has just been asked to take a trolley filled with paper parcels through to the back room. He wheels the trolley slowly through the trout farm and we see various tasks being performed, people going about their business. Pikul (Larry) delivers a parcel to a bay where some sort of operation seems to be being performed and as he moves on to the next bay he recognises someone. 00:52-end of cue: At this next bay Allegra looks up at Pikul and he motions that she leave what she’s doing. The cue ends as Allegra arrives next to Pikul at the entrance to the bay she was working in.

12. genius in a game-pod: Allegra asks what the person on the assembly line (Nourish) said to Pikul. 00:00-00:18: The cue begins as we hear Allegra repeat exactly the question to Pikul she has already asked a moment ago. After a pause Pikul slowly and deliberately tells Allegra that he was told where to have lunch. A smile appears on Allegra’s face. 00:18-end of cue: The scene segues to outside the trout farm and we see Pikul and Allegra (along with other workers) slowly walking towards the Chinese Restaurant. The cue ends as the scene again segues to an interior shot of the restaurant.

13. what’s so special about the special?: Seated at a table in the Chinese restaurant Pikul wants to pause the game because of some uncertainties that he’s feeling. He stands up and shouts “eXistenZ is paused”. 00:00-00:50: The cue begins as Pikul sits back down in his chair and his head falls forward onto the bed of the chalet that now appears to be the restaurant table. We segue back to the chalet and we see both of them lying on the bed. Pikul comments that the life that he exited the game for now feels completely unreal. Allegra tells Pikul that he actually wants to go back to the game because what’s here is safe, boring. 00:50-2:12: Pikul stands up and begins to move about the chalet not sure what is real and what is the game. He even wonders if Allegra is actually a game character. “Definitely not!” she replies and she rises to kiss Pikul. Allegra settles back down, then Pikul activates the game-pod. We hear a knocking from somewhere off-screen. 2:12-end of cue: We segue back to the Chinese restaurant and see service as usual.

14. hypoallergenic weapons: Pikul and Allegra are served the special – but they are not too impressed by what has been put before them. Pikul reluctantly tucks into the various gelatinous delicacies and begins to assemble the bony parts of the food into what looks like a gristle gun – like the one used to shoot Allegra at the beginning of the movie. 00:00-00:44: The cue begins as Pikul realises what the assembled weapon actually is. He continues then feels something strange in his mouth (~00:37). Reaching into his mouth he pulls out and examines a dental bridge. 00:44-1:25: Pikul continues to assemble the gun: placing the dental bridge containing some teeth into a bony clip and placing it into the handle of the gun. He then attaches a trigger and loads the gun (~1:20). He points the gun at Allegra’s head. 1:25-1:55: This music does not appear here and an edit moves directly to ~1:55. 1:55-2:13: “Death to the demoness, Allegra Geller” are Pikul’s dramatic words. “That’s not funny”, Allegra replies. Pikul apologises and puts the gun down. 2:13-end of cue: This music does not appear at this point.

15. an element of psychosis: Pikul mentions that he has an urge to kill someone and the Chinese waiter is to be the intended target. Pikul shoots the waiter. 00:00-~00:44: The cue begins as the wounded waiter hacks off the tip of the gristle gun with a meat cleaver. Allegra throws a bowl of soup in the face of the waiter and Pikul shoots again (~00:08) and the waiter falls dead onto the table (~00:12). Pikul examines the bleeding gun as Allegra rises from the table (~00:21). The music fades as Pikul assures everyone that everything is okay. 00:44-end of cue: This music does not appear at this point.

16. traumatized nervous system: At the Game Emporium Hugh Carlaw convinces Pikul and Allegra that they need to silence Nourish. 00:00-00:47: The cue begins back at the trout farm as they wait in line to enter the assembly line. Pikul says that he does not wish to be where he is and that he is worried that the objectives of the game itself appear to be unknown. They enter the assembly line, passing through security. 00:47-1:43: They make their way to Allegra’s assembly bay, looking for what turns out to be a game-pod. As Pikul closes the bay doors he glances around and sees a covered basket (~1:31). Allegra recognises that this is what they are looking for and moves towards it. At 1:43 the cue switches to…

02. MetaFlesh Game-Pods: After a few seconds of unidentified music where Allegra uncovers a diseased game-pod in the basket this cue makes its second appearance. 00:00-1:07: Allegra says that she has a terrible urge to port into it. They make ready for the porting as Pikul asks how long the infection from the diseased game-pod takes to take hold. When ported into other game-pods the infection will spread rapidly. Pikul inserts the umbycord but it’s not long before we see from Allegra’s expression that all is not well. 1:08-1:45: She calls to Pikul that the “procedure” hasn’t gone to plan and Pikul attempts to pull the umbycord out. But the infection has taken hold and it is too painful for the cord to be removed – if it can be removed at all. He decides to cut the cord and, finding a knife he returns and cuts the cord. 1:45-2:56: Allegra reacts badly to this, lapsing almost into an unconscious state. Pikul can’t stem the flow of blood from the cord and gives up. Allegra says that she is bleeding to death. Pikul goes back to trying to halt the blood flow (~2:08) but he cannot – he says that he doesn’t know what to do. Obviously unable to do anything, suddenly Nourish appears at the bay entrance with a flamethrower in hand: “I know exactly what to do” he calls (~2:40)…”Death to realism” he shouts as he approaches the diseased game-pod, obviously about to torch the pod…At 2:56 this cue cuts to…

15. an element of psychosis: 00:00-00:34: Once Nourish burns the diseased game-pod it explodes, releasing vast quantities of what Nourish terms “spores…deadly spores”. We see these spores contaminating other bays where pods are being operated on. Technicians try to cover these pods, trying to limit the contamination. Allegra regains her senses, realises what has happened and, reaching for a knife, she stabs Nourish. There is a few seconds of music looped from the preceeding 34 seconds that underscores Nourish’s comments: “Death to the demoness…”. But he doesn’t have a chance to finish the statement. 00:38-end of cue: Nourish collapses, dropping the flamethrower and setting light to the straw in the bay. Pikul, who is comforting Allegra, says that they have lost the game but soon comments that they may not have lost the game – he sees that they are back in the chalet; but there are still flames visible within the chalet. Moments later they are back in the chalet with no burning at all.

17. Anti-eXistenZialists: Allegra explains that the infection that was in the game has somehow come back with them to the “real world”. Her game-pod is now infected and Pikul’s bioport is also infected. Allegra inserts something into Pikul to rid the infection. Allegra argues that Vinokur has given Pikul an infected port to try to kill off Allegra’s game. After an explosion outside, a mercenary ushers them both outside. He also shoots Allegra’s game-pod on the way out. Pikul realises that they may still be in the game. Just as the soldier is about to kill Allegra – the enemy of realism – Vinokur shoots him. 00:00-00:53: The cue begins as Vinokur tries to get Allegra to defect to Cortical Systematics as she moves over and kneels by the dead body of the soldier (~00:36). Allegra shoots Vinokur. Allegra almost laughs as she looks to Pikul. 00:53-1:35: Pikul wants to know what she was doing shooting Vinokur, saying that if they are not in the game now then she’s just killed someone for real. Pikul wonders if he is the next person to be killed by her. 1:35-2:20: Then Pikul says that it was no accident that they were brought together (he points a weapon at Allegra, ~1:45) and admits that he was a plant against Allegra. Allegra points out that he has had a bioport fitted. His reply is that he made the “bioport sacrifice” to get close to and understand what he is to kill. She replies that she knew he was the assassin (~2:12) when he pointed the gun at her in the Chinese restaurant and she tells him that he needs to understand that it is he who is dead. 2:20-end of cue: Allegra detonates a device that she had placed in Pikul’s bioport and he is killed (“Death to the demon, Ted Pikul”), falling down a slight slope and coming to rest at the bottom (~2:35). Allegra then cheers and queries aloud if she has won the game or not. As this goes on a device appears on her head and hand (~2:47). Allegra senses these and walks towards a set of church pews that have appeared in the grass. Then she is back inside a building with a group of other individuals, one of whom is Pikul.

18. industrial espionage happens: The cue begins after there’s an extended debrief by the participants of the characters in the game transCendenZ by PilgrImage. 00:00-end of cue: We see the female PilgrImage employee – Merle – sitting alone on a church pew. Nourish approaches and mentions that he is disturbed by the fact that the game had such an anti-game theme. They both find it disturbing and agree that it needs to be discussed at the focus group. The cue ends as we cut to hear Pikul thanking someone for looking after his dog.

19. transCendenZ by PilgrImage: 00:00-00:36: The cue begins as Pikul and Allegra begin asking Nourish a few questions. The mention that they have to agree that he is the greatest game designer and that he is as good as everyone said he was. Nourish thanks them but Allegra wonders if he shouldn’t suffer for all they harm that they have done – or are about to do – to the human race. For carrying out an effective deforming or reality. 00:36-1:13: They pull out guns that have been concealed on Pikul’s dog and shoot both Nourish and Merle. The other game testers remain seated, watching unmoved. Allegra shouts, “Death to the demon, Yevgeny Nourish!” “Death to PilgrImage! Death to transCendenZ!”, announces Pikul. They stand motionless after their announcements with the others still just sitting around, watching. 1:13-end of cue: They move to exit the building leaving their dog. As they approach the man who played the Chinese waiter in the game they raise their guns. The man rises, “No! You don’t have to shoot me…Hey, tell me the truth. Are we still in the game?” The cue ends as we see Pikul and Allegra facing the camera, pointing their guns directly at us. Fade to black.

06. pop your spine with a little hydro-gun: not used in movie.

08. insect boards: not used in movie.

20. it neural-surged: not used in movie.

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