World on a Wire (West Germany, 1973)

posterDirected by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Okay, it’s obnoxious film gushing time: This movie could possibly be an example of a perfect film. What is a perfect film? It doesn’t exist, there is no “perfection”, every criterion you think of just excludes more aspects of the film than it includes, etc, etc, etc. Okay, I get that. But I’m reeaaaaaally tempted this time to just use the word “perfect.” I happen to be really into science fiction when it’s done in a sort of Philip K. Dick way. Roughly that means: realistic settings, the primacy of human relationships, lack of technological fetishism, sociopolitical conflicts basically taken from the present day but with one or two elements of fantastical or futuristic technology or world problems transposed onto the plot. This is good for people like me who honestly don’t give a shit about spaceships or the biology of fictional aliens. This film isn’t about the world ending in the sense of, say, Independence Day or War of the Worlds. The world basically is ending in this story, but in a much more intimate and horrible and unbearable way. I’m not sure how to proceed—normally I assume you’ve already seen the movie and I don’t worry about spoilers, but I’d hate to ruin this for anyone. Not that it’s a big “secret plot twist” kind of a movie, and the twist is fairly predictable from pretty early in the movie. But I really want to talk about the ending, so just look away if you want to. After everything Fred Stiller has been through, after all of the existential uncertainty the film has put us through, the end comes and we’re supposed to just swallow it as a happy ending? Can Fred—and can we—just take Eva at her word that she’s the “real deal” and they have ascended to the highest possible level? A closer analysis would be great—to look back for some concrete cues that Fassbinder is giving us to nudge us towards one conclusion or another. However, just going by my memory here, it seems like the film is pointing to the conclusion that there is no conclusion. Stiller really doesn’t have that certainty, and neither does Eva, and neither do we: the Cartesian onion has been peeled back and back and back and it could go on forever ad infinitum. So that leaves us with this really interesting ending—interesting in how seemingly superficial and banal it is. The overt joy and facile, straightforward happiness that comes over those characters at the end of the film that points to a deeper unhappiness or uneasiness, all of that reminds me of David Lynch endings, of Blue Velvet—how it seems really great on the surface, but really you know everything is still fucked. The characterization here is so incredibly elusive—they give just enough hints of some humanity beneath the behaviour and the dialogue to keep you involved as a spectator, to make it functional, but no more. Ultimately, I’m really not sure what was going on with any of those characters, their emotions, their motivations, their interactions, etc. I believe all of their emotions to be genuine, but there’s still a lot of doubt, which ties in to the overall plot and theme of the film. I’m just scratching the surface on this thing, it’s really quite remarkable. The core actors—Klaus Löwitsch, Mascha Rabben, Barbara Valentin, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, not to mention a cameo from Gottfried John (from Goldeneye)—are all absolutely incredible in this movie. Those performances are really the core of the film, without basically any special effects or big sets or exotic scenery. What is exceptional is the camera movement. I don’t remember enough of the other Fassbinder movies I’ve seen to know whether that remarkably personable, deliberate, conspicuous camera movement was unique to this film or if it was typical of Fassbinder’s style. Anyway, all of these elements combine to make a hell of a movie (although actually it was a two-part TV miniseries, but I like to think of it as one long gigantic film novel thing). And, if all of that isn’t reason enough to see it, that song at the end is so sublimely great.

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