I remember the first time I saw Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, a truly unsettling series of interconnected theories about all the meanings hidden in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. All of the disparate, faceless interviewees had their own completely contradictory ideas about what Kubrick was doing, and Ascher presents them all totally without commentary or editorializing. It was a novel, if flawed, way to do a documentary. Turns out, that’s just kind of his bag as he employs nearly the exact same method in his newest film, A Glitch in the Matrix. Seemingly, it’s about examining the validity of whether or not we’re living in a simulation. But it’s not. It’s mostly just people saying nonsense.
It’s definitely not a new idea, that the world as we know it is merely a simulated reality. Some advanced civilization has created this elaborate existence for us all to live in. In fact, the backbone of A Glitch in the Matrix is clips from an infamous speech author Philip K. Dick gave in France in the late ’70s about his belief that everything we know is a simulation. But Ascher interviews several theoretical scholars as well as just true believers in what seems like an attempt to explore the subject from all angles.
The documentary is about as un-straightforward as possible. It more or less breaks down into a few different sections, which interweave throughout. Firstly we have academics who have written these theoretical papers and done thought experiments about the probability that we’re living in a simulation. Along with this, Ascher includes clips of people like Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about how they definitely think it’s a simulation (Musk) or that at least they can’t disprove it (Tyson).
Next we have what amounts to the largest chunk of the movie, wherein several dudes discuss how they are positive the simulation theory is correct. They back up their claim, mostly through logical fallacy (“if we have created video games that are this complex, then someone else has probably created us”) and anecdotal evidence (one guy discusses a wild event in Mexico where he should have died in a car wreck but didn’t and then should have become a hostage of the Federales but didn’t).
Finally, we have a discussion of the movie The Matrix in terms of how it opened a lot of people’s minds to the idea of simulation theory. We also have the film’s most harrowing extended sequence in which a man named Joshua Cooke explains in detail, via a prison phone call, how he watched The Matrix on repeat and wore black trench coats and how he began to believe so much in the idea that reality was fake, he could only think of one way to prove it. He bought a shotgun and murdered his parents. Turns out, it wasn’t a simulation. His legal team tried to introduce “The Matrix Defense” as a strategy.
And so ultimately this is where I have issues with A Glitch in the Matrix. Most of the movie is guys off of a Reddit thread describing their cockamamy beliefs—there’s an extended discussion about real-life NPCs, or Non-Player Characters, which has been shorthand for trolls and hate groups to describe people who don’t matter—coupled with philosophers seemingly lending credence to the idea. Ascher never interrogates his subjects, he never really provides a counter to anything they say. He’s the anti-Errol Morris; the anti-Alex Gibney. If Cooke’s horrifying description of his crimes is meant to be the refuting of the simulation theory (it’s not a simulation because killing is wrong), it’s basically the only one.
Ascher does present the information in a visually engaging way. With a mix of computer generated vistas and his trademark stock film footage, he livens up the lengthy descriptions and provides digital reenactments of some of the events. It’s a good trick, and a great way to give visual complexity to something that is almost entirely theoretical. He also created AR avatars for his three main true-believer subjects which offers a funny sort of disconnect.
I have to ask myself whether if I believed in the simulation theory at all I’d have a more favorable opinion of A Glitch in the Matrix, and I really don’t know for sure. But I’d like to think I’d still have the wherewithal to realize an examination of a topic without any kind of balance is inherently biased. Where is the psychologist explaining why people might believe in this theory? Where is a scientist or philosopher explaining why we aren’t in a simulation? Ultimately the film just gives voice to the Musk Bros out there (Musk, they claim, is definitely a player character) who think they can see the code. We’re all sheeple, I guess.
2.5 out of 5