May. 15, 2013 - Issue #917: The Roadtrip Issue
World on a Wire
Those men, both of whom will soon vanish from the narrative and, apparently, from most of the characters' memories, work for IKZ, the Institute for Cybernetics and Futurology, developing a project known as the Simulacron, a supercomputer that generates "identity units," synthetic personalities crafted with sufficient care as to believe themselves real. As IKZ researcher Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) explains, "To us they're merely circuits, but to them, they live just like we do. They build roads, listen to music, eat." Theirs is a kind of mirror of our world, and Fassbinder's world, while low-budget and un-invested in generic effects, is appropriately made of mirrors, glassy surfaces and water, visual elements alternately alluring and alarming, at times accompanied by bursts of electronic squeals seeming culled from the unconscious. Reflections and doubles abound. But what is artifice? What's real? What's distortion? And what difference does it make? Juicy questions for a gifted storyteller, questions that merged to form one of the key themes of 20th century literature, from Bioy Casares and Borges to Philip K Dick and William Gibson, and to a lesser extent of 20th century cinema, from the Dick-inspired Blade Runner to the head-exploding films of David Cronenberg to The Matrix. As channeled though Fassbinder's fecund and resourceful imagination, fueled as it is by his voracious appetite for cinema of all traditions, this question emerges slowly and disturbingly, through a mixture of conventions borrowed from film noir and Douglas Sirk melodrama, cryptic stylistics (Fassbinder was really big on blocking actors to walk around vast rooms in 1973) and ontological vertigo. It's a long haul, but it's very much worth the journey.
The drama builds via dual conspiracy narratives, the first concerning accusations that the Simulacron is secretly co-opted by corporate interests, the second concerning Stiller's growing suspicion that his world may be no more real than the one he helped create. One of the most brilliant aspects of World on a Wire is how it ends on what initially seems like a fairly predictable note, but upon closer scrutiny, enhanced by Fassbinder's prolonged cross-cutting between a scene of death and one of rebirth, we become uncertain whether we're meant to feel relieved or plunged more deeply into despair. Narrative ambiguity is exchanged for moral ambiguity, and we're left to ponder whether actions have deeper meaning at all, and weather our senses are to be trusted. Stiller's conspiracy theory is in a sense of way of restoring belief in God, but his is a God who offers his creations no consolation whatsoever.
Fri, Apr 27 – Wed, May 2
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
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