Review: A Glitch in the Matrix (2021)

courtesy of KVIFF

After four feature-length documentaries under his belt, we are safe to assume that Rodney Ascher has found his niche in portraying some fringe phenomena. His goals are not the simplistic sharing of the information or getting the new believers to the cults, but the explanation of the phenomena themselves and trying to find the emotional justification for their existence.

Room 237 dealt with the somewhat extreme fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and the meaning they have read from the film. The theme of The Nightmare was the often-mentioned, but never actually approved condition of sleep paralysis. The El Duce Tapes was a collective effort aimed at uncovering who was the man behind the titular pseudonym, other than the singer of the shock rock band The Mentors.

On the menu for this year, we have A Glitch in the Matrix that deals with the so-called simulation theory and its aficionados, buffs, enthusiasts and fanatics. The film premiered at the Midnight section of Sundance (it happening online is an effective pun on so many levels) and went to streaming shortly afterwards. With the restart of the festival circus, it went on tour with the stops at NIFFF and KVIFF, where we got to see it on the big screen.

The simulation theory argues that the world around us, including most of the people, is just a simulation created by an unknown entity (or more likely a super-computer), while the reality is hidden deep below the layers. Its roots can be found in Plato’s Cave and it is actually a good food for thought and the fuel for the science fiction literature and movies from the absolute classic The Wizard of Oz to the 90s modern classics like The Truman Show, The 13th Floor, Dark City, Total Recall and, of course, The Matrix as the pillar of it. It even has some of the advocates (sort of) in the more “serious” world of science and technology, like Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson and the academic Nick Bostrom, who makes the appearance on the screen and whose paper Are You Living in a Computer Simulation is actually seminal for propelling the theory to the mainstream.

For a “commoner”, it is not that hard to imagine the simulation theory having grounds in the events around us, especially having in mind the leap in the technology in the last 30 or 40 years. From the simple, but large in format pong consoles attached to the gigantic TV sets, we now have the pocked-sized powerful computers in form of cell phones and detailed open-world simulation games in which we can indulge in our own madness alone or with others online.

Ascher approaches the topic in a pretty standardized American way, relying on the interviews with the selection of the film’s subjects, mostly fans of the theory. Most of them are masked, hidden behind the computer avatars, which is one of the best points of the film. Those interviews are cut by the illustrations of the text that could be found in the excerpts from a number of films, some of them mentioned in the paragraph above (for obvious reasons, The Matrix trilogy dominates that segment), and also with the archival footage of the lecture Philip K. Dick gave in France in the 70s in which he suggested the hypothesis of the alternate, “real” reality he got in touch with after he was administered anesthetic at the dentist’s, which made the world appear like a simulation. The footage of Dick, the author who used the simulation theory to the extent to create the worlds in his book, is actually the most intriguing in the whole film.

Only later on Ascher touches the more sociopath aspects of the theory and its “practice” by some of the individuals, like The Matrix-obsessed Joshua Cooke who killed his parents with a shotgun in an attempt to break the reality. He is convicted for it and interviewed over the phone by Ascher, with the most striking remark being that the killing in the real world does not look anything like it does in the movie.

With the interesting topic and some clever aesthetic choices especially in the department of graphics, A Glitch in the Matrix is a decent, informative and intriguing watch. George Feucht’s camerawork and the editing by Ascher himself and Rachel Tejada are functional. The trouble is that it feels a bit superficial in its approach, that it is prone to repetitions of the same conclusions over and over again and that it finally seems more of a curiosity page from the newspaper (or on Wikipedia) than a work of an in-depth philosophy.

Runtime: 108’
Country: USA
Language: English
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Written by: Rodney Ascher
Cinematography by: George Feucht
Editing by: Rodney Ascher, Rachel Tejada
Music by: Jonathan Snipes
Production design by: David Offner
Colourist: Joel Ides
Produced by: Ross M. Dinnerstein
Production companies: Campfire, Valparaiso Pictures
Distribution by: Magnolia Pictures