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THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (1999)


PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Appearance/reality

CHARACTERS: Douglas (Craig Bierko), Whitney (computer nerd), Hannon Fuller (old German man), Jane Fuller (Douglas’s romantic interest), Larry McBain (detective)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR JOSEF RUSNAK: Godzilla (1998)

SYNOPSIS: Douglas works for a company that has created a breakthrough virtual reality simulator modeled after 1930s California, in which the inhabitants are fully conscious. When Douglas’s boss is murdered, Douglas enters the 1930s world to find clues – essentially hijacking the body of one of the 1930s characters. Douglas soon discovers that his 1990s world is itself only a simulation, and that his body was hijacked by a sadist at a higher futuristic level of reality who killed Douglas’s boss. The sadist dies while in the 1990s world, and Douglas takes over the body of the Sadist in the futuristic world.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. The movie opens with Descartes’ famous quote, “I think therefore I am.” In the director’s commentary, Josef Rusnak states that this was the inspiration for the whole film. Or, as he states later in the commentary “I think therefore I am – don’t bet on it!” What’s his point?

2. At what point does Douglas arc – i.e., discover that he is only a simulation, and what does he do with that realization?

3. Near the end of the film, Douglas agonizes over the fact that he killed people. Jane consoles him by saying that it wasn’t really him since his body was overtaken by another person’s mind. Consider, though, that Douglas’s body is only a simulation. In what sense, then, is he connected with any of the murders at all?

4. Are the 1930s people any less real than the 1990s people, simply because they are buried one layer deeper within the simulation?

5. The final shot of the film is fizzles out as though it were a TV that was shut off. In the director’s commentary, Rusnak states that this leaves it open as to whether that level of reality is really the final one, or just one more of many other layers. How many layers of reality could a plot like this sustain from the standpoints of (a) sheer movie entertainment, (b) the limitations of computer technology, and (c) philosophical implication?

6. In the director’s commentary, Rusnak notes that, to reach an American audience, he had to construct a genre piece – that is, a movie that conveniently fits a standard style, such as romance, adventure, drama, or horror. In this case he went with the thriller genre. Does this choice make the movie more or less philosophically interesting when compared to appearance/reality movies in other genres, such as the action/adventure genre of the Matrix?


 
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