I mentioned in my article about eXistenZ that it went under my movie radar in 1999 due to the super hyped and superb movie The Matrix and that there was another sci fi that same year that I also missed. The Thirteenth Floor. Three movies released in 1999 that all point to those BIG questions. Question Reality, Question Why, Question Yourself.
Just like with the other old sci fi movies (The Matrix and eXistenZ) you’ve got to focus on what is happening. Otherwise you’ll lose the thread and you’ll end up like some of the characters and not know where you are.
A while back I started to watch a German TV series called Welt Am Draht (World On A Wire) because I heard it was like The Marix. I didn’t finish watching it as it was quite dated (1973) and coupled with the sub titles was a bit hard going. Then I read that both World On A Wire and The Thirteenth Floor story were based on the book by Daniel Galouye called Simulacron-3, and I told myself I will revisit that old television show one day.
“I think, therefore I am.” Descartes, 1596 – 1650.
There’s sad music playing with a trombone and a zoom in to a pot of ink and a fountain pen writing a letter. Mr Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) writes, “They say ignorance is bliss, for the first time in my life I agree. I wish I’d never encountered the awful truth.” He finishes the letter with “You are the only one I can tell this to. You are the only one would possibly understand. Good luck my friend.”
He seals the letter in an envelope and we see a distinguished looking older gentlemen with white hair and mustache rise up and leave a wad of cash on a bedroom table next to a young, scantily clad lady fast asleep.
He walks out of the room, down into the hotel reception and into a large luxurious dance hall with bar, live music and singers. The 1934 jazz song Easy Come, Easy Go (Johhny Green and Edward Heyman) is playing in the background and Fuller heads straight to the bar where the barman Ashton (Vincent D’Onofrio) knows him, lights his cigarette and serves up a Martini with an olive to him. He hands the letter to Ashton and tells him that a man called Douglas Hall will ask for it and it is crucial that he gets it.
“We’re Out Of Olives”
As Mr Fuller is jumping in a taxi to go home we see Ashton open the letter at the bar. He arrives at his home and climbs into bed with his wife who has her back to him and mutters that he’s been smoking again. Laying on his back looking up at the ceiling the camera moves in close to his eyes and they flicker and bam! He is transported from the 1937 reality to the 1999 reality. He sits bolt upright and he is a room full of computers and equipment. A computerised voice states: “Download complete. Link to simulation terminated.”
This is The Thirteenth Floor and where Mr Fuller lives and works. He leaves The Thirteenth Floor, walks outside and into the bar across the street and asks the barman (Jeremy Roberts) for a Martini. Fuller tells the barman that he forgot the olive, he replies “We’re out of olives.” Fuller goes to the bar payphone to make a phone call to Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) as the barman looks on. During the phone call Fuller is distracted by someone and turns and walks towards them. We do not see that person but we do see a knife stab Fuller to death.
Douglas Hall wakes to find three new messages on his voicemail and drops of blood in his bathroom, all of which confuse him. The second message is from Detective Larry McBain (Dennis Haysbert) asking Douglas to come down to the station. He identifies Mr Fuller at the mortuary and is visibly stunned by the death of his boss and friend. He tells the detective that he worked for 6 years with him on a whole new frontier in computer research. Back at The Thirteenth Floor a Jane Fuller (Gretchen Mol) turns up and says she is Mr Fuller’s daughter, which shocks Douglas as he had no idea that his dead friend had a daughter.
There is another scientist that has been working on the virtual reality program called Jason Whitby (Vincent D’Onofrio‘s character in the 1999 reality) and he tells the Detective McBain that the program has fully formed cyber beings that think, eat, sleep and work just like we do. McBain jokes, “Do you think one of those units crawled out and killed its maker?”
Suspicion creeps in when Detective McBain asks Douglas if Mr Fuller contacted him before he died. He confirms no, but then there was the third voicemail that Douglas didn’t hear from Fuller due to the shocking second voicemail from the police.
Of course Douglas goes home immediately to listen to his boss’s call and hears that he has left him a message in the system. He decides to go into the 1937 reality to find the message. He jacks into the VR with Whitby’s assistance. The User Douglas Hall is prepared for download into the Unit called John Ferguson (Craig Bierko‘s character in the 1937 reality). Consciousness Transferring….Download Complete. Douglas’s eyes flicker and he is pulled into 1937, he’s in a bank, playing a bank clerk.
Douglas moves backwards and forwards between the 1937 and 1999 realities trying to understand what happened to his boss and why.
I fully understood this movie after a second viewing with its different levels and thought it was brilliant. In the 1937 reality the “people” or units think that they are real. We think we are real, right? But what if we are not real? What if we have avatars (our bodies) and we are living and playing in a Virtual Reality world? What if you found out that all you ever knew was a lie? Like The Matrix, these old sci fi movies make you think and question EVERYTHING. Or maybe, it just delights and distracts you. Either way, it’s entertainment at its best.
If you went down the rabbit hole, come back up and comment below on the movie.
And if you didn’t see it already, what did you think of the taster? Did it pull you in? Are you going to the 13th Floor?
Respect to the Image Makers!