The Thirteenth Floor is another film about portaling into another dimension to discover that your own world isn’t real, and getting a glimpse of the larger reality in the process.The method of portaling in this case is by “downloading your consciousness” into an avatar in a computer-simulated reality. When this happens the computer says “preparing user for download into simulation.” Whenever characters go inside the simulation, they refer to it as going “down there.” So you could think of it as going into the underworld. However, in this case, you have at least three worlds, all concentrically wrapped inside each other.
In the beginning of the story, we learn that this type of virtual reality machine has been invented by an old man named Hammon Fuller, who speaks with a German accent. He is a billionaire and head of the company that is testing the machine, which is located in Los Angeles (the City of Angels). We learn that he lives in the same high-rise building where his company is located.
In the second level of reality, Fuller is the architect of the fictional realm “below,” which is set in 1937. He represents both Saturn (Father Time) and the demiurge of the Gnostics, as well as the Masonic “Great Architect of the Universe.” His Saturnian nature is revealed not only by the fact that he is depicted as an old man, but by the way in which he is said to abuse and deny the existence of his own children. Saturn (Chronos to the Greeks) ate his own children at birth to deny them life, keeping them trapped inside himself.
Initially, Fuller is said to have a daughter named Jane whose existence he has neglected to mention to anyone who currently knows him. She says that she had spoken to him recently. She claims that he had promised to leave his company to her in his will, and that they had both agreed that the simulator would be shut down. Thus the fake world below , and all of Fuller’s “children” there, would be destroyed.
It is revealed that he has been going into the simulator repeatedly without telling his employees (and before the machine had been cleared for human testing) in order to have sex with young female prostitute characters there (his own creations, and therefore his “daughters”). Fuller chose the setting of 1937 to recreate the time of his childhood. This brings to mind the Men in Black film archetype mentioned in the thesis, which involves a person dressed and acting seemingly inappropriate for the present era. Fuller wears a black suit with a vest, top hat and cane whenever he goes out on the town in the fictional realm.
Fuller is murdered on the second level of reality, but his avatar in the realm below him continues on, as an antique dealer. Furthermore, Fuller is himself revealed later to be an avatar, made in the third level of reality and based on the father Jane Fuller, the lady who architected the second level of reality. So like Saturn, old Mr. Fuller is undead.
When his protege and true heir to his company, Douglass Hall, descends into the simulation and meets the avatar in his antique shop (who is totally unconscious of the existence of Fuller in the other dimension), a cuckoo bird is shown emerging from a clock, as if to indicate that Fuller is Father Time (Saturn) and also “cuckoo”: a mad scientist, like the Gnostic demiurge. Just as Saturn’s dreams were said by Plutarch to influence people as he sleeps comatose in a prison/tomb devised for him by ZeusFuller sleeps in the simulator, and his dreams form reality for his “children” in the fake world that he crafted for them.
The “downloading” of consciousness from a person in one dimension into the body of someone in another dimension can be thought of as a representation of demonic possession. As my Film Myth Analysis thesis states, the primordial Portal Quest involves offering up one’s soul for a “totenpass” (a “passport to the underworld”), which allows your soul to travel to the realm of the dead for the purposes of adventure, while a demon resides in the hero’s body.
The strangest thing to happen in the story is that apparently, when the bodies of fictional characters die in the simulation while they are being “possessed” by “users” on the reality above them, it appears that the consciousness of the “user” disappears, and the fictional avatar’s consciousness jumps one level above, to assume the body of the “user.” This first happens to Jerry Ashton, a bartender in the 1937 simulation created by Hammon Fuller from the second level of reality. When Fuller’s employee, Jason Whitney, “downloads” his consciousness “into” the body of Ashton, and Ashton’s body gets killed in the simulation, Ashton’s consciousness jumps “up” into the body of Whitney on the second level of reality.
The primary controversy at the end of the film is whether or not the characters in the two levels of simulated reality have “souls.” When Douglas Hall complains to Jane Fuller about being a “puppet,” she counters: “A puppet doesn’t have a soul,” then argues that he and Fuller have both demonstrated having one. The characters in the simulations had been programmed to live in ignorance of the true nature of their reality. But Fuller became aware that he was a fictional character in a simulation after creating one of his own.
The true architect of everything, Jane Fuller, had convinced her “fictional” character Hammon Fuller (based on her real-life father) in her simulation to shut his own simulation down. But then he had become aware that the “reality” he himself lived in was also fake, created by another scientist just like himself. So he then left a message in his 1937 simulation for Douglas Hall revealing this truth, and also amending his last will and testament to leave his company to Hall (instead of leaving it to Jane to shut down, as she had previously gotten him to agree to).
Jane declares to Douglas that by “changing his will,” Hammon had demonstrated that he and other simulations were capable of having a soul. The word “will” here has a double-meaning, as it implies that by demonstrating his own free will, the fictional Fuller had become a real man with a soul. Likewise, perhaps, Adam and Eve acquired their souls (becoming living beings in reality instead of mere “potentialities” in the timelessness of Eden) by rebelliously eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This was a daring move that gained them God-like wisdom regarding the nature of the reality that they were in. But the knowledge instantly changed what that nature was, making them “real” in time and space, just as the simulation characters in The Thirteenth Floor become “real” and wise to the multiple layers of reality when they die.
There are several references to the Apocalypse. When Douglas Hall journeys to the edge of the computer-generated world he lives in, he sees the horizon fade into a grid with green lines, and finally understands where he is, which he refers to verbally as “the End of the World.” Earlier, when Jerry Ashton recounts to Douglas his experience after reading the letter that Fuller had left for him, he mentions that it said “all that stuff about the ‘ends of the Earth.’ He says:
“I did exactly what the letter said. I chose a place that I’d never go to. I tried to drive to Tucson. I figured, what the hell – I’ve never been to the countryside. And I took that car out on the highway. I was going over 50 through that desert. After a while, I was the only car on the road. It was just me and the heat and the dust. And I did exactly what that letter said: “Don’t follow any roadsigns and don’t stop for anything – even barricades”. But just when I should’ve been getting closer to the city… something wasn’t right. There was no movement, no life. Everything was still and quiet. And then I got out of the car – and what I saw… scared me to the depths of my miserable soul. It was true, it’s all a sham. It ain’t real.”
With the exception of the “real” world above (representative of the “Supernal Eden” realm), the origin of all the other, fake realms below, the lower levels of the universe in The Thirteenth Floor are “unreal” and therefore aren’t actually there. They are in chaos, the Abyss. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people there and things happening. There are potential souls, just waiting to be brought to life. As the trailer for the film says: “You can go there, even though it doesn’t exist.”