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. The original was thought lost but recently the film was reconstructed and restored, and showcases both the genius and the peculiarities of Fassbinder. Imagine his future world peopled by the same cabaret singers and archetypes he used in Genet’s Querelle. His work is always astonishing.
Once again we have a provocative film. Here the filmmaker blurs the boundary between reality and simulation making what we think we see something that is ceaselessly questioned.
At the institute for cybernetics and future science (“Institut für Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung, IKZ”), a new supercomputer hosts a simulation program that includes an artificial world with over 9,000 “identity units” who live as human beings, unaware that their world is just a simulacron. Professor Vollmer, who is technical director of the program, is apparently on the verge of an incredible secret discovery. He becomes increasingly agitated and anti-social before dying in a mysterious accident. His successor, Dr. Fred Stiller, has a discussion with Günther Lause, the security adviser of the institute, when the latter suddenly disappears without trace, before passing on Vollmer’s secret to Stiller. More mysterious still is the fact that none of the other IKZ employees seem to have any memory of Lause.