Throwback Review: “The Thirteenth Floor” Will Make You Question What Is Real

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The Matrix wasn’t the only movie released in 1999 that dealt with virtual reality. Often overlooked, The Thirteenth Floor also focuses on the blurry line between the real (or so it seems) world and the world created by a computer. Although the plot and special effects in The Thirteenth Floor are nowhere near as sophisticated as in The Matrix, this well-paced movie had me wondering about what was going on until the very last scene.

Based on the book Simulacron Three by Daniel F. Galogue and directed by Joseph Rusnak, the movie follows Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) as his boss Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the owner of computer enterprise, is murdered, and Douglas becomes a suspect. The thing is, Douglas can’t remember the events of the previous night, yet many clues point towards him. Fuller invented the virtual reality simulation of 1937 Los Angeles and was beginning to test it when he was murdered. However, he managed to leave an important message for Douglas inside the virtual world.

Since I am a big fan of The Matrix, I had to check out The Thirteenth Floor, and I have to say that it had me guessing for a while. Though every layer is eventually unraveled, I was still left with some uneasy feeling even as the end credits started: how do we know with certainty that this “real” world is real? As the characters came to unnerving realizations, I couldn’t help but wonder, how would it feel if a person’s life was just dependent on the computer numbers and simply pulling the plug could end everything.

I really enjoyed all the scenes that took place in the 1937 virtual reality, since the time period was recreated very carefully. The sepia tone of the picture only adds to the atmosphere of those scenes. The emphasis in the movie is made on the story, not on the action or special effects, but the few effects used when the main characters enter the virtual reality are sufficient enough. The mostly gloomy colors complete the uneasy atmosphere.

The cast is quite strong, with the main characters often switching between their “real” and virtual personalities, all in a believable way. The two characters that Vincent D’Onofrio plays are especially interesting to watch, as they are starkly different. The relationship between Gretchen Mol’s Jane, Fuller’s daughter, and Craig Bierko’s Douglas takes some interesting turns as the story progresses and different layers are uncovered.

Give The Thirteenth Floor a try, and decide for yourselves what is real and what isn’t.

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