By turns dilatory and manic, with lazily navigated narrative turns stabbed by violent zooms and frequently catatonic performances swiped by quick pans, Fassbinder’s bipolar sci-fi meditation centers on a virtual environment called Simulacron, “the most exciting research project in the entire world.” An immersive construction not unlike the labyrinthine brain jails of eXistenZ and The Matrix, Simulacron is essentially a forecasting device meant to play out supply-and-demand scenarios for the benefit of humans in the near future.
Inside Simulacron are approximately 10,000 “people” that can frizzle and fry into non-being if a cup of water spills onto whatever machine runs their code. They think they’re “real.” Like you, basically. When Fred Stiller, scientist-cum-middle-manager at the proto-Cronenbergian concern responsible for the project, begins chasing twinned suspicions about the project’s ultimate goal and the nature of his own apparent reality, well, I think you see where this is going.
The revelations may
be obvious, but as in the work of fellow mindfucker Philip K. Dick, the
narrative involutions are secondary to Fassbinder’s philosophical
probing. The film dawdles at times, but it is scarily good at capturing
the creepy-crawly sense that life is not only a dream, but a dream
someone else is having about you. That’s fairly fluffy Phil 101 fodder,
but Fassbinder makes the idea sing—scream, more like it—with an addled
madness that is all too...real?
86 SEE IT: World on a Wire screens at the NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium at 7 pm Friday-Saturday, 4:30 pm Sunday and 6:30 pm Monday, Sept. 23-26.