Directed by Hans-Christian Schmid and released in its home country of Germany in 1998.
This review does contain spoilers.
23 is based on the true story of a hacker who gets caught up in a massive web of conspiracies as he works with the Russians and other hackers to find government information in return for cash payments. This is the basic idea for the film.
While I do not want to delve too far into the subject matter of the ideas discussed in the film, I do want to explain them at least to a little degree. In the film, the main character is brought up around the ideas of the Illuminati through a trilogy books by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea entitled Illuminatus. These books were ultimately inspired by a vast treasure trove of information which the two authors came across when working as editors for Playboy magazine in the 1960s. A lot of the information was sourced from letters they would receive from readers and many articles were indeed published pertaining to the Bavarian Illuminati and other conspiracies about Jewish bankers and political assassinations. While much of this information was true, what Wilson and Shea did was to weave a detective story in between the information to distort much of the truth and let people make their own minds up about this material. They are not the only authors to have done this. We can point to Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and Lindsay Clarke’s The Chymical Wedding as just two examples.
It seems that when presented with the facts themselves, we are usually inclined to just bat away any ideas of anybody controlling any aspect of society just as preposterous – but when you are presented with this information in terms of a story and something which you can relate to, it really makes you think: what if something like this really is going on?
Well this is the idea of the main character in this movie. And it turns out that he is right. But not necessarily because there is a big cabal out to get him. But because he breaks the law and hacks into various government systems which he probably shouldn’t have done in the first place. Oh, and he does it to get information for the Russians. How convenient. Now of course the story itself is true, but you can find out for yourself that much of the film was contrived for entertainment purposes just as most films are; that fact alone should make you sit back and think just for a moment about the events in the film.
The film itself I did actually think was quite funny and, although I thought the main character’s performance was severely lacking in any kind of actual emotion, for the most part I enjoyed it and loved the subject matter.
As I’ve actually read quite a lot of Robert Anton Wilson’s work already I found many of the in-jokes that connected all of this information together quite fascinating. Ultimately though it’s not a film about the Illuminati. It is a film about a conspiracy against someone who breaks the law however. That alone should tell you that maybe there isn’t a big organisation out to get everybody. Read Wilson’s books, and decide for yourselves.
The number 23 itself, if you do delve into Wilson’s work, will give you quite the conundrum, as you can see it does for the character in this film. I myself, since reading Wilson’s work, have come across it on so many occasions. To give you just ONE example, at the time of the writing of this blog post, on the day it has been posted the 2nd of January 2018, there are 23 comments on this destroyallcinema WordPress site.
In 2007 Jim Carrey starred in another film about this number, The Number 23.