Wir [DE 1982]

Info: I embedded the full movie with automatically translated English subtitles below. The English subtitles may not work for some apps.

International title: We

THE PLOT

In a dystopian society called One State, everything is controlled by efficient algorithms, as well as by an all-powerful dictator called Benefactor. The unitary society lives in a large glass city that is protected from the outside by the Green Wall. The plot of Wir focuses on the mathematician and committed supporter of the system, D503, who works on a space shuttle that’s bound to explore – and possibly colonize – foreign planets. D503 writes daily reports about what makes One State so efficient, and why rationality is a greater good than freedom for the collective. One day, on a mandated leisure time walk, he meets I330, a woman, who is opposed to the system. He is fascinated by her ideas of personal freedom and hedonism, and learns, that she is part of a revolutionary underground group called MEPHI. As he slowly falls in love with her, he increasingly starts to lose faith in the perfect system of One State and uses his connections to sabotage the space shuttle.

WHAT I LIKE

Given that most modern dystopian movies focus on visual spectacle, Wir almost feels stale. It’s an independent low-budget production with limited set pieces, few actors/actresses, and practically no computer-generated effects (cp. the crowd replication effects during leisure time activities). Thus, it generally feels like a filmed version of a stage play – however, the simplicity is mostly effective. The set pieces look simple but atmospheric, e.g. the office space, or the room of the Benefactor. The glass walls make for some interesting shots and convey a sense of constant surveillance. Also, the dialogues are well-written and mainly explore the political and philosophical concept of freedom, e.g. one central notion is the perceived contradiction of freedom and security. The dialogues also further the plot, which makes the narrative well-structured but slow in certain moments (e.g. the romantic triangle of D503, his assigned woman, and his childhood friend). Still, the narrative world building is great: how people talk about the Benefactor, the 60-minutes War, the Integral, or the Guardians feels natural, which makes the world authentic and the plot believable.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The production values are obviously low, which results in some technical flaws. For example, the camera work, while decent to great in static shots, is poor in handheld scenes. When the camera tracks the main characters, e.g. in the old mansion, the viewer frequently sees the cameraman’s shadow, which can be distracting. In addition, because of the few actors and actresses, One State feels like a small community – as opposed to the massive scope of the society in the novel. Also, conceptually, some aspects of the movie feel outdated. The glass city works great and effectively depicts the working and living condition of the citizens of the futuristic society. But the use of automatic typewriters or how the doctors operate is strangely outdated. This becomes apparent, when the individuals, allegedly being guided by technology and reason, discuss concepts like fantasy or the soul, especially how the doctors behave during the operations. There are even some unintentionally funny moments that are borderline awkward, e.g. when people in the cafeteria discuss how they should chew their food. Overall, these problems are aggravated by the mediocre performances. Side characters deliver their lines often poorly and both lead actor and actress tend to overact in emotionally taxing moments. Their arguments often feel staged, which results in the viewer questioning D503’s transformation from a law-abiding citizen to a terrorist.

VERDICT

Wir (international title: We) is a dystopian science fiction drama set in One State, a totalitarian regime strictly regulating how people live, work, and think. The plot mainly focuses on D503, a loyal mathematician working on a space shuttle, set to explore other worlds and potentially impose their system on the people there. However, when he meets the rebellious I330, he empathizes with an underground group of revolutionaries. Based on the 1920 Russian dystopian novel “We” by Jewgeni Samjatin, the movie mostly stays true to the source material, but it also struggles to capture the scope of the novel and the acting performances are generally not impressive. Due to the low budget, the visual presentation is rudimentary, however, the few different set pieces look great and really convey the novel’s concept of mass surveillance (i.e., like a giant panopticon city). Still, because of the mostly decent cinematography, the well-written dialogues, and the interesting world building, the movie can overcome some of its more technical flaws.

Overall 6/10

INTERESTING FACTS

– Among horror fans, actor Dieter Laser would later become famous for his role as Dr. Heiter in The Human Centipede [2009].

– The movie is based on the 1920 novel “Мы” (“We”) by Jewgeni Samjatin. The novel is generally considered to be one of the first dystopian novels, alongside Jack London’s 1908 novel “The Iron Heel” and H. G. Wells’ 1910 novel “The Sleeper Wakes”. “We” was an immense influence on George Orwell when he wrote “1984” and there are obvious parallels with Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”- even if Huxley claimed he didn’t know the novel at the time.

– Recently, the novel has been adapted by French director Alain Bourret as the short film The Glass Fortress [2016]. The experimental film is shot in black-and-white and is influenced by La Jetée [1962] (cp. the freeze frame technique), THX 1138 [1971], and Brazil [1985]. It can be viewed for free on YouTube.

– Both the movie and the novel largely consist of diary entries of the protagonist. However, the movie mostly omits the open revolution of MEPHI during the last act, O90 being pregnant with D503’s child, and the troubled state of the city during the end (cp. the Green Wall is destroyed and One State’s survival is in doubt). Apart from these aspects, the movie stays true to the source material.

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