The Thirteenth Floor released along with eXistenZ in the same year – 1999. Both were good movies, The Thirteenth Floor was better in many ways. They share a pretty similar concept, a world within another world. What also happened was that they both shared a similar concept with another movie which too released in the same year of 1999 – The Matrix. Both movies got crushed into inexistence by The Matrix. Had they released in the year prior, either movies would have seen the light of day. Unfortunately they got lost in the shadow of The Matrix, it was hard not to.
The Thirteenth Floor was directed by Josef Rusnak who hasn’t really made too many successful movies, this one could have been his big hit but… too bad. It stars Craig Bierko (From Scary Movie 4), Armin Mueller-Stahl (from The Game) and Gretchen Mol (you’d have seen her in a small role in Donnie Brasco).
The Thirteenth Floor Plot Explanation
Clearly this is going to be filled with spoilers, if the title wasn’t obvious. Right, let’s get the obvious out of the way. The movie has a plot which involves a simulated world with in the real world. What you will need to know is that there are three worlds. Yes, a real world, a simulated world and an inner simulated world. While the movie doesn’t explain further if the real world is indeed real or not, for this explanation I’m going to call it the real world. The people in the simulated world don’t know that they are simulations. They are electronic people living a normal human life inside the simulation.
Here is the layer cake of the worlds. The real world has many simulated worlds, thousands. The simulated worlds are used for some purpose, mostly experimental I’d imagine, they don’t really explain why thousands of simulated worlds exist. Let’s ignore that for now. One of the thousand such worlds is the one the movie is about, the one that we are interested in.
The visual of the layer cake:
The Real World (2024)
The 3 primary characters:
David : The husband
The Real Hannon Fuller : Jane’s father
Jane Fuller : The wife
Not many details are disclosed about the real world. David from this world used to be a nice guy and progressively became evil. He starts using the simulations to live out his dark fantasies. He enjoys killing people in the simulations. Sort of like how people go on a rampage while playing the game GTA. Jane becomes increasingly detached from David and his psychotic behaviour. She however starts falling in love with David’s download link – Douglas Hall.
What is a download link?
A download link is the person within the simulation into which a person from the world-above can download. The person from the world-above can temporarily take control of the download link and do whatever he/she pleases with that control. This duration of control becomes an attack of amnesia for the download link – they find themselves in a place not knowing how they got there.
Douglas Hall is David’s download link. Jane observes Douglas’s personality in the simulation and begins to fall in love with him. The real Hannon Fuller is Jane’s father in the real world.
The Simulation World (late 90s)
The 4 primary characters:
Hannon Fuller : Inventor of virtual reality world and owner of the company
Douglas Hall : Hannon’s protégé and heir to the company : David’s download link
Jason Whitney : Assistant to Douglas Hall in the company
Natasha Molinaro : A supermarket clerk : Jane’s download link
Detective Larry McBain : The detective investigating the murder case
This is main world the movie deals with. At this point we are not told that this is a simulation (that would be the big twist). Hannon is the creator of a VR simulation world (the VR simulation world is a world within this simulation world, 1937). Hannon is a simulation in the image of the real Hannon Fuller (there is no major information on the real Hannon Fuller). Hannon uses the simulation world to indulge in sex with young girls. Hannon also realizes that his own world is not real. It is not explained how this happens. Simulations are not supposed to find out that their world is not real. Hannon perhaps does some driving around and stumbles upon a place where he sees the end of the simulation (green wireframes). Hannon knows this behaviour exists in the VR simulation (1937) too. He wants to get this information across to Douglas, his protégé, secretively. Hannon leaves a written note in the VR Simulation (1937) for Douglas.
David from the real world notices that Hannon (from the late 90s simulation) has found out that the simulation world is, well, a simulation. Suspecting that Hannon would do something about it, David downloads into Douglas and kills Hannon by repeatedly stabbing him. This is the scene we see outside the bar but we are not shown that it is Douglas/David. The bar keeper sees Hannon leave but doesn’t know who’s killed him.
Douglas has been suffering from memory losses. This is because David has been “Jacking into” him to do his own thing. The bloody shirt and stains are a result of David downloading into Douglas and killing Hannon. Detective Larry McBain is investigating the case and suggests to Douglas that the clues point to him as the main suspect.
Douglas hears the answering machine message Hannon leaves him on the phone about the “information”, if he is to prove his innocence, Douglas needs to go into the VR Simulation (1937) to get that message. He decides to go into the VR Simulation (1937) with Jason Whitney’s help.
The VR Simulation World, the Simulation within the Simulation (1937)
The 3 primary characters:
Grierson : Antique storekeeper : Hannon’s download link
John Ferguson : A bank teller : Douglas Hall’s download link
Jerry Ashton : A bartender : Jason Whitney’s download link
The movie opens with this. Hannon has been downloading into Grierson and living his fantasy of being a rich guy in 1937 and indulging in young girls. The secret note that Hannon leaves for Douglas is by downloading into Grierson, writing the note that explains that Douglas’ world is not real and leaving this note with Ashton the bartender. However, Ashton opens the note and reads it.
The note instructs the reader to drive in a direction that he would usually not, not stop for any sign boards mentioning end of road or otherwise. This will take the person to the end of the simulation. This would let the person know that his world was not real. While all this was intended for Douglas, Ashton ends up doing this and figures that his world (the VR simulation of 1937) is not real.
When Douglas downloads into John Ferguson and comes to ask the bartender (Ashton) if he has any message for a Douglas, Ashton lies and doesn’t mention the note. Soon after this, Douglas’ download linkage is terminated as the timer runs out.
The plan is for David (in Douglas) to kill Hannon, Jane (in Natasha) to come in as Hannon’s daughter and close down the company. The VR Simulation (1937) which Hannon has created is also dangerous as it’s not expected for a simulation world to create another simulation world inside it. However, Hannon changes his will to make Douglas the heir to the firm making it difficult for Jane (in Natasha) to assume control of the company. Meanwhile, detective Larry McBain is closing in on Douglas as all the clues point towards him as the murderer of Hannon (after all, he did murder Hannon, just that David did it). Because of all the memory losses Douglas begins to suspect himself too.
Douglas and Jane (in Natasha) spend some time together and it appears that they start falling in love. The bartender who sees Hannon leave swings by to blackmail Douglas, he has no proof but thinks he could give it a shot. The bartender gets his face smashed into a car window by Douglas instead. The bartender later is found dead. This murder is also performed by David downloading into Douglas. Douglas is arrested because of this but Jane (in Natasha) gives him an alibi and gets him out.
Douglas goes back into the VR Simulation (1937) into Ferguson and this time meets Grierson. Grierson finds a fancy suit of his size hidden away. He admits to having recollection of dreams with young girls. He even mentions that he could smell the perfume of the girls when he woke and that his wife suspects him of cheating. The reason is because these aren’t dreams or fantasies, this is because Hannon has been using Grierson to indulge with girls. Douglas (in Ferguson) takes Grierson to the club. After trying really hard, Grierson remembers handing a note to the bartender Ashton. Douglas (in Ferguson) chases down Ashton. Ashton admits to reading the note and finding out that his world is not real. Ashton also mentions how he’s noticed Douglas and Ferguson switching characters. Ashton and Douglas (in Ferguson) get into a fight and Ashton gets the upper hand almost drowning Douglas (in Ferguson). Douglas, in the world above, is woken up by Whitney and tells him that the timer was never set and this could have been very dangerous.
Detective Mc Bain finds out that there is no daughter that Hannon had. Jane was a fake. Douglas tracks down Jane but instead finds a Natasha Molinaro who looks like Jane but is a supermarket clerk. Douglas notices how Natasha has no recollection of meeting him. This along with the note makes Douglas try an experiment. He drives as instructed in the note and is shocked to find that his world too (late 90s) is merely a simulation.
Jane again downloads into Natasha and meets Douglas and explains to him how he is the download link of David from the real world and that David is her husband in the real world. She also explains to Douglas how she’s observed him for a long time and has fallen in love with Douglas even though he is a simulation. She tells Douglas that David has downloaded into him and killed Hannon. Douglas’ world (late 90s) is special because it is the only simulation world which has created another simulation (1937) within it.
Meanwhile, Whitney enters the VR simulation (1937) to satisfy his curiosity. He downloads into Ashton just as Ashton is driving away with Ferguson in his trunk. Presumably, after the swimming pool fight, Douglas “leaves” Ferguson, Ashton realizes that and ties up Ferguson, dumps him in his car and drives on. Whitney (in Ashton) loses control of the car and is stopped by a cop, the cop also finds Ferguson tied up in the car. In a freak accident, Whitney (in Ashton) gets hit by a car and killed.
How does Ashton come out of his world? How does Whitney become Ashton?
What the users of the simulation are unaware is that when they are downloaded into their link and get killed when still jacked in, the consciousness from the simulation ends up taking control of the body one level above. When Whitney is downloaded into Ashton, Ashton’s simulation has two consciousness – the active one – Whitney and passive one – Ashton. When Whitney (in Ashton) gets killed, the active consciousness dies – i.e. Whitney dies. The passive consciousness of Ashton comes up one level above and takes over Whitney’s body. Therefore Ashton now has come up one level and Whitney has died.
Douglas meets Ashton (in Whitney) and realizes that it’s Ashton. However, neither of them know how this has happened. Ashton (in Whitney) wants to see the VR Simulation computers, Douglas also lets Ashton (in Whitney) know that the current world too (late 90s) was merely a simulation. Just then David downloads into Douglas and kills Ashton (in Whitney).
Jane (in Natasha) knows when David was planning to download into Douglas. So she calls detective Mc Bain and explains everything to him and asks him to come over to Douglas’ place. She tells him that Douglas will try to kill her and Mc Bain needs to stop him. As expected David (in Douglas) attempts to kill Jane (in Natasha). Just then Mc Bain intercepts by shooting David (in Douglas) and killing him. Jane (in Natasha) thanks Mc Bain and Mc Bain asks her to leave everyone in his world (late 90s) alone.
Douglas now wakes up in David in the real world in 2024. How did this happen? The same as it happened to Ashton. David and Douglas shared a mind in the late 90s simulation. The active consciousness David was shot and killed, the passive consciousnessof Douglas takes control of David’s body in the real world as a result. Douglas (in David) meets Jane and the real Hannon, Jane is glad her plan has worked. Jane starts to explain more to Douglas (in David) about the real world and the film ends with the real world shrinking to a digital line imagery. This leaves us with the doubt – is the real world actually real or yet another simulation? It could be, it’s not answered, that’s the point – real is what your mind makes it whether human or simulation.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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