A scene form World on a WireMade for German television in 1973, director Rainer Werner Fassbinder created a sci-fi epic that was years before its time. It anticipated later sci-fi classics and masterpieces such as Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Matrix and Inception. Even though it doesn’t have to be 205 minutes in length, Fassbinder makes the most of each minute.

World on a Wire (a.k.a. Welt am draht) is a trippy two-part tale adapted from Daniel Galouye’s 1964 novel Simulacron-3. Audiences will be treated to a recently restored print blown up to 35mm via a joint effort between the Fassbinder Foundation and The Museum of Modern Art. The auteur also pays homage to American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick with references to “Zeno’s Paradox” and director Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre.

Dr. Fred Stiller (played by Fassbinder regular Klaus Lowistch) is a scientist at the Institute for Cybernetics and Futurology who begins to doubt the benign nature of the company’s supercomputer, which was created to forecast human behaviour in the real world. When a colleague dies under mysterious circumstances, Stiller is led down a path of hallucinatory and unformed madness as reality and simulacrum become increasingly confused.

Fassbinder’s eye for detail is remarkable. Almost every scene features three fields of vision with extreme detail paid to each level, including the background. This is reminiscent of Orson Welles’ auteur style, which relied heavily on depth. The camera’s ability to capture everything in the frame is astounding as it pans around a room 360 degrees. The sets and props are carefully selected to draw just enough attention while not becoming the focus of a scene. Moreover, the modern/futuristic design and vision are fascinating.

Several mysteries emerge in the first section of the film, including the unexplained death of a friend and baffling disappearance of a colleague. Whether it would have been as obviously questionable in the ‘70s is uncertain, but based on the strange occurrences and the people impersonating inanimate objects, reality is almost immediately in doubt. In addition, the motivations and/or trustworthiness of most of the characters are debatable.

Many of the film’s images and sounds are unsettling, but that’s what makes this viewing experience so captivating. World on a Wire screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, June 17 and Sunday, June 19.

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