Quick-Thoughts: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire (1973)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Marathon Part II of V

Yeah, not surprised Rian Johnson has a feature on the supplements for the Criterion release of this; I didn’t expect the cinematic origin to The Matrix, Minority Report, Inception, and White Christmas/San Junipero to be a cute little “who-dun-it” if you look past all its terrifying, psychedelic scares of human-computer malfunction/deletion and the overbearing reality crisis of our own skeptical universe. Dang.

For a nearly four-hour mini series that almost feels entirely expositional but more so in a pseudo-psychological way where you’re not sure whether or not what you’re listening to should actually be taken into consideration as it could be just false precepts to help put you directly into the ever-warping mind of our disturbed main protagonist, World on a Wire is a masterful adaption of the classical philosophical argument that’s brought up in the 1964 novel Simulacron-3 regarding realities controlled by other realities… and maybe controlled by even more realities, and so on so forth. Opposed to The Matrix though which takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape of a ruling alien race dominating humans through a virtual reality, World on a Wire seems more concerned with the technology’s place when present in modern society. 

A cybernetics corporation is in search for testing societal theories through an almost predeterminable methodology: a computerized reality that either absorbs the success of an idea firsthand or bites the bullet of it entirely to therefore benefit the “real” world as it applies its observations to avoid or recreate such experiments for themselves. The mini-series seems to suggest that if there is a God looking over us, there may be another God looking over him, and by “God” I mean a plethora of them, all representing different personalities and ambitions, good or bad, just like, well, people; wouldn’t any artificial world-building suggest such a motley of creators? 

This may not necessarily be Fassbinder’s best work in terms of acting directions (I won’t deny that I laughed a few times at some dramatic reactions/revelations) but it’s not that shocking to behold when you realize how out of bounds this kind of story seems so far in this director’s filmography, opposed to his previous projects where he tended to be vastly more concentrated on the characters rather than the plot. However, visually, this is on par with his previous year’s work, holding no punches to make every shot seem compositionally rich with its expressionistic camera movements or blocking fractures, the colorfully concentrated lighting, and the futuristic variant of luxurious, dream-like set pieces to accompany it all. The buzzy score is fittingly unpleasant, as well. 

My proudest take away though that I got from this was watching people (even the fancy, professionally suited businessmen) who have spinning chairs at their office desks ACTUALLY spin in their chairs. It’s nice to see a filmmaker that finally gets it: no sane person wouldn’t do that s**t 24/7 if they’re blessed enough to have one.

Verdict: A-

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Ranked

“World on a Wire” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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