Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Premise: A documentary about “simulation theory,” the belief that we are living within a computer simulated reality like the one seen in 1999’s The Matrix.
What Works: A Glitch in the Matrix comes from filmmaker Rodney Ascher who had previously directed Room 237, a documentary about various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and the alleged hidden messages embedded in the film. Ascher is an accomplished filmmaker and A Glitch in the Matrix skillfully intercuts interviews with simulation theory proponents with creative visualizations of those concepts. Many of the commentators are presented through avatars, adding another layer of distortion to reality, and the film makes clever use of clips from Hollywood movies. Although the title references The Matrix, the documentary doesn’t lean too heavily on references to that film. The pop cultural references give A Glitch in the Matrix a playfulness that makes it fun, except for a severely dark turn at the end.
What Doesn’t: Simulation theory is the idea that if we were put inside a powerful enough simulacrum we would not be able to tell the difference between illusion and reality. This is not a new idea. It has foundations in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and the concept appears throughout fantasy and science fiction. A Glitch in the Matrix approaches simulation theory with the enthusiasm and naivete of a college freshman philosophy student. What’s so ingenious about simulation theory is that the proposition is virtually impossible to disprove; how would you know if your reality was just an elaborate construct? That elusive quality leads the commentators and this documentary film down a slippery slope of half-baked conspiratorial reasoning. Simulation theory shouldn’t be taken literally. It’s a metaphor intended to help explain how we interact with and understand the world. Accepting simulation theory as a real-life conspiracy begs an obvious question: why would you distrust your senses? Buying into simulation theory as an ontological truth requires an idiotic suspension of disbelief. A Glitch in the Matrix doesn’t interrogate the logical aspects of simulation theory, preferring instead to delve into its various implications. But hereto the documentary comes up short. A Glitch in the Matrix is all over the place, indulging conspiratorial thinking as it jumps to conclusions that confirm preexisting beliefs. The superficiality of A Glitch in the Matrix is best exemplified by the interview with Joshua Cooke. As the film presents it, Cooke became obsessed with The Matrix and simulation theory and his notion of reality was so turned around that he committed murder. The film handles this poorly. It’s implied that The Matrix or this philosophical theory bear some responsibility for Cooke’s actions and the filmmakers only passively mention that Cooke was allegedly a victim of child abuse and had a history of mental illness. If the filmmakers are trying to suggest how a fragile mind might be unmoored in a culture where conspiracy theories run rampant and modern technology has made reality subjective, the documentary’s explanation is insufficient and incomplete.
DVD extras: Currently available on Hulu.
Bottom Line: A Glitch in the Matrix gestures at something important and profound about the way perceptions of reality become distorted but the film’s approach misses the most vital and interesting aspects of that topic. The filmmakers instead indulge conspiracy theories and elementary philosophy while evading substantive questions.
Episode: #863 (August 8, 2021)