Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ‘World on a Wire’ (1973)

I think, therefore I am“, says Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch), quoting French philosopher René Descartes.

Our protagonist, Fred Stiller is the newly appointed Technical Director of Simulacron, a highly advanced computer system which creates a miniaturized version of society with 9,000 identity units, or shall we say ‘humans’? These identity units have all the characteristics of ordinary humans: they feel guilt, they sin, they have children, argue, feel pain etc…

Stiller, with conflicting notions of reality, begins to doubt his very own existence as people around him start to vanish into thin air. The event which sets a domino effect into motion seems to be brought upon by a realization that if there is a world below us, there must be a world above us. As we begin to realize our own artificiality, the real scientists above us begin to delete our own identity unit in means of avoiding any risks that we might bring about suspicion to the rest of the society.

The 205 minute, made for television, Germanic film first broadcasted in 1973 helmed by famed director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. What seems to be nothing more than an average science fiction film about identity crisis and artificial worlds is actually much more than meets the eye. Fassbinder introduces to his audience a slow-paced, yet vastly intriguing study into a well-aged philosophical discourse with no clear resolution yet filled with endless possibilities left open for any hungry imagination to devour. Rather than rely on special effects to carry the story, a heavy reliance is placed on set design, cinematography, editing, and location.

However, the most appealing quality of World on a Wire seems to be how well it has aged. Regardless of the similarity to modern films such as The Matrix, modern day audiences may still feel a justified parallel with this science fiction masterpiece. Fassbinder, a genius filmmaker in capturing subtle symbolisms, provokes his audience to further poke away at the mystery delved at by Fred Stiller. If there may be infinitely many worlds below us, why not infinitely many worlds above us? What world is below ours? Well, if taken from a literal stand point, how about this very film? Are we not merely observers of a society made out of projections of lights and tiny pixelated circuits like the ones in the film? If so, who is viewing us from a similar screen? And if we are a mere simulation of a true reality, will we ever have the courage to admit that existing, regardless of our state, is existing nonetheless?

Thank you for reading,

Omar Antonio Iturriaga