Wednesday, August 3, 2011

World on a Wire (Re-Release)

Works as ideologically captivating as Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "World on a Wire" often cannot hold themselves together. This TV miniseries (212 minutes long), drawn from Daniel F. Galouye's novel "Simulacron-3," goes on a tangent in the second of its two parts that sends it into territory that lets it down. It's not enough to truly distract from the film's mind-blowing concepts and beautifully crafted art direction and sound design. However, I wish the film hadn't taken a path that falls below its standard of ingenuity.

What precedes the conclusion is often astonishing, extremely perceptive for a movie made in the '70s, and possibly sweepingly influential (though I'm not sure how much circulation this got). A corporation called IKZ has created a computer, known as Simulacron, which is loaded with a replica world, with people programmed to have realistic traits. Citizens of the outside world can get "linked in" to someone in the machine, which is like playing a 1st-person video game. Mostly, though, the technology has been manipulated to play out possible outcomes of the future, for financial gain for a steel company that the head of IKZ, Siskins (Karl Heinz Vosgerau), has ties to.

The computer has gotten a lot of attention in the media, though no one's quite sure what the deal is. That's not the only thing that's hazy at the company: IKZ's technical director Vollmer (Adrian Hoven) apparently has gone insane with some fact and committed suicide via electrocution. And the only person to have any idea about what's happened is Gunther Lause (Ivan Desny), who at a party suddenly disappears for what seems like no reason.

This happens right in front of the man who comes to be our protagonist, Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch), the new technical director, who is extremely unnerved. He wants to find what happened to Vollmer, especially since he's having a relationship with Vollmer's daughter (and Lause's niece) Eva (Mascha Rabben), who also seems prone to disappearances. But the closer he gets to conclusions, the more crazy and ill he comes off to the people in his office. You can tell, though, that something's off here, and the rare case of one person being aligned with the truth and everyone else straying could be possible.

It's not hard to see where "World on a Wire" could go, and, to my dissatisfaction, it went that way. This movie, though, does not suffer as drastically from that as most would. That's because "World on a Wire" is brilliant and thought-provoking, and follows many of the possibilities generated by its premise to their ends. Fearlessness is a great quality for a film to have, but it's especially important in sci-fi, where implications stack up more than in conventional narratives. Another feature of this genre that can make or break is how the world of the film is depicted visually. On that level, "World on a Wire" is extraordinary. Every set is exquisite, and Fassbinder doesn't waste an inch, utilizing each one completely.

I strongly recommend "World on a Wire" for anyone who loves to be puzzled by science fiction. It definitely comes through in many ways. The only other Fassbinder I've seen is "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" (which, along with this film, features Elhedi Ben Salem, and seems very different, yet shares some of the same themes, like alienation), but I'm excited to check out more of his work, like "Berlin Alexanderplatz." For now, I'm glad I saw this film and I hope it'll delight those sci-fi fans who get the chance to see it (now that it's screening in various reparatory theaters). A-

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