The film 23 is a German drama/thriller film released in 1998, centered about a computer hacker Karl Koch, who died of a presumed suicide on the 23rd May 1989. It was directed by Hans-Christian Schmid. Koch’s story is interesting because he was involved in a Cold War computer espionage incident. Outwardly the film appears to be the straightforward thriller about the cold war involving computer hacking into government and military computers before the information is sent to the KGB, but there is more to it than that.
In real life Koch was fascinated by the Illuminatus trilogy, he even took the name of one of the characters as his moniker as a hacker, and he was fascinated by the 23 enigma which was prominently shown in the works. This fascination was explored in the film.
Working with other hackers from the Chaos Computer club, Koch was involved in the selling of hacked information from the United States and delivered it to the KGB. He was found burnt to death in a forest near Celine in Germany, and the death was believed to be a suicide though some believe there is little evidence. The police even found evidence of suspicious goings on, but officially the case is closed as a suicide.
The coincidental world of the number 23, if you look into different conspiracy theories, which are highlighted in this film, show how 23 is featured throughout history and in modern society. Humans have 23 chromosomes. Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Olof Palame was shot at 23:23 local time, give or take a few seconds. The Earth’s orbit is inclined 23.5 degrees.
Beyond the number 23 are other numeral fascinations like lucky number 7, or unlucky number 13. But there are many coincidences linked to 23.
The film version of Karl Koch invests his heritage in a flat and a home computer. He dials up boards to check on conspiracy theories inspired by the Illuminatus works, then he and his friend David begin to hack into government and military computers.
The film, 23, was critically acclaimed, but it was harshly criticized by real life witnesses as exploitative, so his friends corrected that with the documentation written by his friends. Schmid, the director, co-authored the a book describing the making of 23. But the film is interesting, the title is derived from the protagonist’s obsession with the number 23.
The number 23 is one of many obsessions Koch showed as he became more addicted to drugs as the KGB constantly pressured him into hacking more foreign computers. Other obsessions were about Dolphins, Atlantis, Discordianism, and drugs. But he was fascinated by the mystical meaning of the number 23.
This isn’t unusual in the coincidental world of the number 23, a belief that many incidents and events are connected to this particular number. The Illuminatus! Trilogy written by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, where Koch found his moniker in the main character, is an example of the 23 enigma. In these works the number is seen as sinister, lucky or unlucky, and sacred.
Interest in Shea-Wilson’s work can be found all over the internet, and Karl Koch was a member of a cult devoted to this work along with a few of his friends. Sitting at their computers, they relate theories to current events, and through a friend of their’s, Pepe, they sell information to the Russians in Berlin.
But the KGB wants military information, and to elude capture the hackers work in hotels when they accidentally hack into a United States database, and the pressure puts Karl into hospital and he suffers from a mental collapse.
The real life version of Koch apparently left his workplace in his car to get some lunch, and he didn’t come back, and the police were brought by his employer to find him. Later the police found an abandoned car in a forest near Celine, and it was covered with dust like it had been there for years. Nearby was a burnt corpse, and a patch of burnt ground around him, and was tightly controlled around the corpse. It’s believed its unlikely to be suicide since this tightly controlled burning could’ve been made by Koch alone.
In the last scene of the film, Koch is seen in the car, pale and vacant from his recent stress and drug abuse, driving down remote country roads, and the films ending is different to real life because in reality Karl disappeared to go to lunch. In the film it was said he was going on a business trip, and the number 23 appeared again; Karl disappeared on May 23, the date of his presumed suicide, and he was 23 years old.