"I think. Therefore I am"
Virtual reality is a topic that has almost defined its own genre. Since
'Dark City' (1998), films about alternative universes and parallel worlds
have been coming one after another. The most popular and original of them
all has been The Matrix. All the films released after it, have been less
successful. David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, released only a couple of months
after The Matrix, was accepted and even appreciated (by some), but the hype
was gone. And when 'The Thirteenth Floor' aired this fall, it was completely
overseen and ignored. I admit that this issue has become something between
tiring and annoying, feeling like eating the same meal over and over again.
It was therefore I was less than excited, when I went out to see to 'The
Thirteenth Floor'. However, I was positively surprised by Josef Rusnak's
latest picture. Matrix was an entertaining thrill ride through dreams and
reality, combining the best of Hollywood's action and effects with an
intelligent story. eXistenZ was a violent, gory and unsettling journey
through reality and virtual reality, ending in blood and madness. 'The
Thirteenth Floor' is somewhere in between. Instead of going after the
crowds - the action audience (like The Matrix), or aiming at the horror fans
(like eXistenZ ), 'The Thirteenth Floor' presents a more intelligent plot,
witch will provide a less entertaining and more serious experience, that the
true science fiction lovers will find rewarding.
In a near future...On the thirteenth floor of a classified building, a
genius scientist, Hannon Fuller, has created a simulated world, his personal
dreamworld, where every inhabitant is a complex, selflearning program that
only believes it is real. Right after the first testing of this world,
Fuller () is found murdered. Douglas Hall (), his closest friend and
business partner, immediately becomes the prime suspect and must enter
through the thirteenth floor in search of the truth. A beautiful woman
(Gretchen Mol) who suddenly appears on the scene may hold the key to the
mystery, which might unravel the horrifying truth about his own existence.
The first "download into simulation" is impressive. It is the creator's
first visit to his world, his creation. In order to enter this virtual
universe, you have to take over someone's identity, become another person.
This is called conciseness transfer, and this is part of the tragedy in the
film: People "wake up" in unknown places and strange things start happen.
They start to doubt in their own sanity. These innocent people pay for the
mistakes of their "users" and creators with their sanity and their lives. It
is a frightening reality; the fact that all the people in the simulation
(the program links) are living out their lives, oblivious, not knowing that
they are puppets in someone's fantasy.
With an appealing ("Blade Runner" - type) of detective story, this film
presents the beauty and possibilities of virtual reality and the lurking
danger that is always present. Our modern world is metal and glass -- cold,
unfriendly, impersonal. The thirties are different -- colorful, beautiful,
elegant, virile. This contrast demonstrates a wish for change. Virtual
reality is here portrayed as a magical, enchanting power that seduces you
into its endless possibilities. To some it is just a journey to their
personal paradise, to some a personal playground -- a life without any
consequences. For others - a way to start over and "correct" their mistakes,
by living in an illusion of their past. Virtual reality is a wizard that
transforms your hopes, dreams and fantasies to life. At least that's how it
is all beginning. But when you're waking up from your dream, the real world
seems worthless and unreal and all you can think off is returning to your
personal paradise. This, almost narcotic effect, soon turns into confusion
and ultimately madness. Some important and interesting philosophical
questions are raised -- what is real? what is thought? who are we? If these
were answered, this film would be the greatest science fiction ever made.
They are off course not answered, but posed in an intelligent manner. The
visual aspect of the film is one of the key elements, since it portrays the
contrast between these computer-simulated universes. Kirk M. Petrucelli has
done a marvelous job with the recreation of the thirties with its glamour,
grace and color; and setting this world in opposition to our own -- an
almost caricatured recreation of the nineties. There are some honest and
decent performances by an almost unknown cast and Harald Klose's moody
musical score that is at in right place at the right time.
A rather unusual thing about'The Thirteenth Floor' is the almost complete
lack of special effects. There are no CGI animated creatures, no bullets in
slow motion. This is a more philosophical approach, reminding about the
European way of filmmaking. This is off course a major disappointment to the
audience that is used to endless gunfights and mutated amphibians, but the
more serious science fiction buffs and 'Dark City'-fans will be pleased.
This film is interesting and inspiring. It has everything eXistenZ doesn't,
but it lacks the immediacy and intensity of The Matrix. And then there is a
happy end which, like in 'Dark City', completely alienates it from the rest
of the story and context. The plot itself is not as original as the
filmmakers want us to think, since they have virtually sucked out all
information from the best science fiction classics, including Blade Runner
and 'Dark City' . With this in mind,'The Thirteenth Floor' doesn't make an
Oscar candidate or a film that will be remembered a year from now, yet this
is a beautiful, elegant and intelligent take on virtual reality.