World on a Wire (Welt am Draht)
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s rarely screened science fiction thriller World on a Wire (Welt am Draht) is an adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s novel Simulacron-3.
A film in which the boundary between reality and simulation is ceaselessly questioned, World on a Wire follows Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch), a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a conspiracy at the Institute for Cybernetics and Future Science. The narrative centers on a simulation project in development at the institute called Simulacron 1, which will be able to predict future social, economic, and political occurrences as precisely as though they were reality. After the initiator and the head of the research project, Professor Vollmer (Adrian Hoven), dies under mysterious circumstances, Stiller is asked to assume his responsibilities and begins exhibiting symptoms uncannily similar to his predecessor.
Shadow Play is a series of films that tread nimbly between reality and illusion, acknowledging the artificial nature of cinema. Referencing the tradition of shadow puppetry, the origins of cinema in phantasmagoria, and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, each film draws on the metaphors of light as reality and shadow as artifice.
In Plato’s The Republic, the allegory of the cave illustrates the difference between truth and illusion. Many writers have noted that Allegory of the Cave (written c. 360 BCE), bears great resemblance to the contemporary movie theater.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder made an astonishing 44 movies—theatrical features, television movies, miniseries, and shorts among them—in a career that spanned a mere 16 years, ending with his death at 37 in 1982. He is perhaps best remembered for his intense and exquisitely shabby social melodramas (e.g., Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), which were heavily influenced by Hollywood films, especially the female-driven tearjerkers of Douglas Sirk, and featured misfit characters that often reflected his own fluid sexuality and self-destructive tendencies, but his body of work runs the gamut from epic period pieces (Berlin Alexanderplatz, the BRD Trilogy) to dystopic science fiction (World on a Wire). One particular fascination of Fassbinder’s was the way the ghosts of the past, specifically those of World War II, haunted contemporary German life—an interest that wedded him to many of the other artists of the New German Cinema movement, which began in the late 1960s.