Set in a dystopian, post apocalyptic future, the movie opens with shots of a mass of white rats interspersed with masked doctors hovering over their new creation, a man. Next we see two men, identical in appearance, under interrogation in a police station. Both claim to know nothing about the death of a neighbour. One man, remembering nothing of himself except for his work as an engraver, is released while the other is carried away, dead. On release the protagonist picks up his coat, but complains as it does not fit so cannot be his original coat. The protagonist leaves the building and looks up at the windows, as the panes open and close in unison. On his return to his apartment he encounters a crazy young man and on the stairs of his apartment watches as a prostitute accepts a blind man and his brother as clients. At the top of the stairs a figure in the darkness offers him a handful of grain.
Two doctors are admonished by an official for letting the copy of the original, now dead, man leave. His name is/was Pernat. The living Pernat now sits in his dank room engraving an image of the hanged man from the tarot. The grain is on the desk and some of the seeds are sprouting. Pernat leaves the building and meets the prostitute on the stairs, she is the sister of the crazy young man. She mentions that there is something different about him and that he is missing his glasses. In a basement store he asks for potatoes from the shop assistant, she is mending plastic dolls with straw. Her father enters and insists on being given money to retrieve a book from the pawn brokers. She has no money but Pernat takes a few bills of his own and stuffs them into the head of a doll, for the father to find. Pernat accompanies the father onto the street and is dragged into a nearby cinema/church by the father, who insists he must confess his clay dreams. A short instructional film, tells the audience that happiness is their obligation and that the medical profession can help achieve this. We see layers of a plastic substance being pealed away to reveal the head of a man. At this Pernat runs to the toilet and in a cubicle peals away a thin layers of skin from his own face. Outside he meets a man, the superintendent, and Pernat helps him carry a stove. The crazy young man, the superintendent's son, appears, yelling, and his sister is called upon to calm him down. His sister is the prostitute. The superintendent asks Pernat to fix his watch as its hands are moving backwards.
The doctors return to the screen to tell us that their aim is to create a better human species and Pernat is their experiment. They agree to let him remain in the community.
While working in his blackened room Pernat is joined, at the window, by a worker come to check his stove. There is no large stove in his attic room but the smoke must be coming from somewhere? On the stairs again and Pernat meets the superintendent and his daughter to be told that there are now two Pernats registered at this address. Pernat goes back to the store to ask the shop assistant to take a walk with him. She won't go as she needs to earn money so her father can retrieve his book. Pernat lends her the money and when the father finds out,he is surprised that Pernat would simply lend money, he assumed his daughter had prostituted herself. He sees that Pernat is kind-hearted and says his book would be of help to him. They go together to retrieve it.
The doctors decide to put Pernat through a series of tests. At the dentist, Pernat has a checkup where his eyes are diagnosed with cataracts. He is knocked out and wakes up in the dark being fed by another. Later, Pernat sits at his desk and the superintendent is bothering him. The grain has now all sprouted but the superintendent opens a packet of pigeon poison and drops it on the sprouts. The superintendent takes his arm and chest measurements then asks to see his ID card. Pernat has lost his card and returns to the police station to find it. Pernat does not appear to know his own name. The policeman tells him that although they talked for several hours previously his name is not on the register and that he should leave. On his return home Pernat encounters the young man, railing crazy thoughts. He gives Pernat a vial of blood to give to his father, the superintendent. The shop assistant's father comes to Pernats apartment with his book. It seems the engraving that Pernat has been working on fits as a cover for the book. The book holds the answer as to why man was created, but for Pernat only, and he offers the book to Pernat but when he declares Pernat a fool he takes it away again.
The doctors discuss how individuality threatens society and that an increase in Pernat's consciousness will make him rebel. The prostitute, Rozyna, throws herself at Pernat and he offers to take her to the cinema. They travel up a long metro escalator to find a number of television sets with a rock band playing on the screen. They continue up the escalators and Pernat finds himself watching the lead guitarist, alone on a small stage, being filmed for TV. Rozyna has gone and the people around havent seen her and are not interested. Pernat returns down the escalators to look for Rozyna but only finds a man lying at the foot of one of the escalators. In a bare room Pernat tries to convince the shop assistant to go away with him but she is happy and will not leave. Outside Pernats room, at the top of the stairs, a man in the shadow now gives Pernat a set of clothes.
The establishment declares that the experiment is not working and tell the doctors that Pernat is to be dealt with. Pernat goes to the superintendent, Mr Holtrum, to return his watch and the vial of blood from his son, but Mr Holtrum has been murdered. An engraving chisel, previously used by Pernat, sticks out of his neck. At the police station Pernat is accused of murder and when he insists the vial of blood is that of the son, Pernat is told that Mr Holtrum had no son. In his prison cell Pernat meets another criminal, who admits to a sex killing and notes that he is for the chop. Pernat offers him his piece of bread but he declines as he must have an empty stomach. As he says this he is undressing and a scar can be seen running down his chest. The criminal describes how he slit open the chest of the girl with all the dolls - his victim was Miriam, the shop assistant.
Pernat is released and returns to the repository to pick up his items and rips the numbered tag from the coat. The coat check man remembers Pernat from last time and admits that he was given the wrong coat, but he won't return Pernat's original items to him. Pernat looks again at the building as he leaves but now there are no window panes and the ground is covered in litter. Pernat goes back to his room and on the stairs is Rozyna, playing with dolls as a child would. Pernat crushes the skull of the doll in her hands. The top of the stairs is no longer in shadow and his door is open. The floor is covered with white rats and the room has been trashed yet some of the grains have grown into wheat. Pernat takes a wheat stork and leaves the room. Now, in the light, he notices a rat come out from behind a boarded up door opposite his room. He breaks through to another trashed room with a large oven on the opposite wall. It contains the charred corpse of a man. Pernat lays the wheat stork, the numbered coat tag and the coat on the body. A band begins to play in the street outside and he runs down the stairs then outside to catch up with the band. Pernat picks up a stick and some rubbish to use as a cymbol and joins the band as they disappear around the corner. The film ends with an official announcement saying that the public should not believe the rumours about a post nuclear, biological, humanity reconstruction programme. A man shouts from a podium. His face hangs on a large poster behind him. He holds a coat tag similar to the one we have just seen. This man looks a lot like Pernat, but with glasses.