A World on A Wire is a cinematic treasure, a sci-fi muse pivotal to the concept of virtual reality which has been pre-occupying the genre for the last three decades. This two-part TV movie explores themes of immersion into an alternate three-dimensional environment with a scenario that’s filtered through a 70s retro-futuristic prism. Directed by New German Cinema’s godfather Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this was his first and only sci-fi project, a deviation from his earlier work mainly concerned with melodrama.

Centred around the creation of Simulacrum 1, which a highly advanced computer simulation designed to elevate conventional processing systems to new levels by creating a virtual reality that is inhabited by computer-generated people called ‘identity units’. Once the head of the project dies mysteriously, his co-worker Dr Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch) becomes his successor and as he starts to probe deeper into the sinister intentions of his employers with Simulacron 1, the lines between the real and virtual worlds start to blur, with his own existence coming into question.</div

World On A Wire possess an erratic narrative, still fascinating to follow, fluctuating in pace, continually introduces characters who seem emotionally detached, staring into the abyss, as if we are seeing an interface of them, whilst their real selves are in some other parallel reality. A motif of ergonomic space-age mod interiors decorates the whole thing, where technology appears advanced enough to host present-day Face-Time capable monitors but maintains a 70s stylish garishness aesthetics; glass table tops, lacquered wood, yellow glass, wall to wall mirrored rooms and white Chevrolet corvettes.

Lowitsch is magnetic as the volatile Dr Stiller, handsomely rugged, buoyant and expectedly for his time, a slightly misogynistic bachelor. We see his infrequent moments of random and mostly comical outbursts. The world around him seems to be morphing but ever so subtly that he can’t put his finger on it. As hint after hint enforces his suspicions but nothing solidifies his paranoia. As people disappear without a trace, and nobody else but him is able to recall them, Dr Stiller becomes perplexed and confused, behaving unpredictable and often in a state of inebriation.

Fassbinder was just 28 when he made World On A Wire, a true testament to his talent and prolific nature, being one of four releases of that year. Originally meant for German TV, this dystopian thriller stands as a visionary ode to a plethora of science fiction since from The Matrix, The Cell, TRON to the more recent Ready Player One.

World On A Wire is out now in a Limited-Edition Blu-ray Box Set from Second Sight.

Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.

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