In Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film “World on a Wire” (1973), Fred Stiller, the technical director of a supercomputer program called Simulacron gets wired up and teleported to the simulated world his institute has created to investigate the unprogrammed suicide of an “identity unit.” Upon returning (via a telephone booth, just like in “The Matrix”), he begins to suspect the reality of his own world. And he is proven right. Near the end, he learns that there is another world one level above and that he is but the virtual avatar of a powerful programmer up there with the same name. Any avatar who learns this forbidden truth must be deleted—hence the mysterious disappearances/deaths of his colleagues. But Stiller is saved by his lover Eva who is a “contact unit” from the world above. She has grown unhappy with the megalomaniac programmer Stiller and fallen in love with his avatar. So she switches the minds of the two Stillers and gets the best of both worlds: the human body of the former and the sympathetic mind of the latter. The programmer Stiller, now befitted with the avatar’s presumably unreal body, is shot to death by police as a fugitive.
The movie beautifully illustrates Herbrechter & Callus’s argument that “the peril that scares us most deeply is the end of our capacity for care” (109) and that science fiction is “a cryto-humanist genre” (98) that always winds up reaffirming the humanist ethics of care. Here, Stiller the avatar proves himself a deeply caring soul because he alone remembers the vanished individuals and tries to get to the bottom of it. For this quality alone (which is an outgrowth of his having unaccountably achieved free will), he is “awarded” membership in the world “above,” i.e., he joins humanity, while his uncaring creator, the programmer, is expelled from the human club. And most crucially, his salvation is effected by a woman who dares to love across the human/posthuman divide, and whose name Eva promises the regeneration of humanity. Someday we may yet become human, by way of a perilous posthuman detour.