A Glitch in the Matrix is the new documentary by Rodney Ascher. Ascher is known for his offbeat documentaries. Room 237, about interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining. The Nightmare, an examination of sleep paralysis. And The El Duce Tapes which wasn’t about Mussolini, but the life and art of El Duce, the GG Allinesque lead singer of The Mentors, an infamous 80s shock metal band.
Simulation Theory is the subject at hand this time, the idea that we are, like in The Matrix films, living in a computer simulation. Only without all of Keanu Reeves’ cool superpowers and black trench coats. The idea that some people believe we’re not just galactic lab rats but merely lines of code is an interesting one. And I was equally interested in why people would have this delusion and what, if any, basis there was for believing it.
Ascher uses everything from the writings of Plato and Descartes to footage of science fiction author Phillip K. Dick whose works were the basis for Blade Runner and Total Recall among other films, talking about basing some of his books on memories of things that happened to him in an alternate reality. Whether that was the result of a glitch in the matrix or his decades-long amphetamine addiction however isn’t addressed.
A Glitch in the Matrix mixes this archival footage, (I’ve posted a YouTube video of Dick’s full presentation at the end of the review), with testimony from modern proponents of the theory conducted over Skype and with their bodies replaced by computer-animated avatars. Whether that was to make a point or to save them from being recognized and ridiculed the avatars quickly get annoying. Ascher never questions these people, they’re allowed to talk about their beliefs and experiences freely. Unfortunately, there was more than one occasion when I wish he had interrupted to ask for some detail or clarification of what had just been said.
The Mandela Effect, a large-scale remembering of an event that never happened is brought up and presented as possible evidence of multiple realities. It’s named after the widespread belief that Nelson Mandela died in a South African prison in the 1980s rather than as a free man in 2013. An interesting subject in and of itself, A Glitch in the Matrix never really delves into it. Similarly Deja Vu, the feeling that one has been in a place or lived through an event before is mentioned but not explored.
The case of Joshua Cooke who thought he was actually living in The Matrix and killed his adoptive parents is given a fair amount of time. Hearing him discuss and almost narrate the killings is chilling. But there should have been an interview with a psychiatrist explaining why he developed his belief.
All of this is set to a background consisting of movies ranging from the Adam West version of Batman to Starship Troopers and, of course, The Matrix or video games like Quake, Grand Theft Auto and Minecraft. Sadly one of my favourite films about false memories, In Memory Of, isn’t represented.
The result is interesting, and occasionally fascinating, but shallow. A Glitch in the Matrix really needed to go deeper into some of the psychology behind the belief. Why do people want to believe they’re not real? And if this is a simulation who is running it, and why? And is the computer it’s running on powered by an Intel or AMD processor?
Those who are deeper into psychology, philosophy and/or metaphysics will probably draw more out of A Glitch in the Matrix than I did. I didn’t gain any real insight into what would make people believe this interesting, if wildly improbable, theory. I also didn’t come away with any reason to treat it and its believers any more seriously than I would someone telling me that the Earth is flat.
A Glitch in the Matrix arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, June 1st from Magnolia Home Entertainment. Don’t expect to much and you will be entertained.