By the end of Rodney Ascher’s A GLITCH IN THE MATIX, you may well be questioning the definition of reality. That, of course, is part of his point. Bur far from a light-hearted romp about the fringe-ish theories that posit our living in a computer simulation, Ascher is interested in more than the Mandela Effect, Generative Adversarial Networks, or whether or not we are in Base Reality. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what those are, all will be revealed.) He is interested in why people think that these might exist. And in the consequences of becoming too obsessed by them.
He begins with the Ur-theorist, at least in modern times, Philip K. Dick. Clips of his seminal discussion of this topic during a talk in Metz, France in 1977 punctuate the film as the author describes his epiphany about alternate realities actual phenomena, and his epiphany on the day of the Vernal Equinox when he could remember his lives in different realities the same way that other people remember their past lives. In between, a variety of talking heads, some in their avatar forms, converse with Ascher about their own theories and experiences. Identity and perception playfully interact as one person describes a wild night of coincidences and mayhem involving Mexican pyramids that for him prove that we are living in a simulation. Another finds his awakening while floating in a sensory deprivation tank in an apartment in New York. When he emerges with the discovery that he is made of computer code, the tank’s owner tell him that its his Third Eye opening up and that it happens a lot. “What do I do with that?” he asks. “Enjoy it,“ replies the owner. There are volumes of philosophy in that, whether it was meant as such by the speaker, and as Ascher’s film continues, the consequences of not heeding that advice become apparent.
Philosophy looms large here, from the metaphor of Plato’s cave to, of course, The Matrix films. Fanciful musings on just what the nature of the computer simulating our universe might be are tempered by less fanciful, but no less thought-provoking musings on the limits of our ability to imagine that machine. We are reminded, for example, that it wasn’t until the understanding of electricity that the workings of the nervous system could be understood.
What Ascher is most interested in, though, is the same curiosity that drove his previous film, ROOM 237, about the conspiracy theories that have sprung up around the films of Stanley Kubrick. Those theories are fascinating, but they take second place to the people who are so caught up in them. In A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX, it is the drive to make sense of reality that engages. The need to account for synchronicity, or déjà vu, or why so many people remember the wrong candy wrapper. Yet, Ascher is a respectful investigator, demonstrating a frank admiration for most of the theorists’ careful thought processes, while leaving us to draw our own conclusions about the validity of their theories. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure, but one that invites us to share their zeal, and in one case, their pain.
As always with Ascher’s films, the visual component is a meticulously curated blend of vintage newsclips that annotate what is being said (spoiler alert, Elon Musk makes frequent appearances). It’s also a veritable cornucopia of film history, with not only the expected Matrix moments and clips of Dick’s cinematic translations such as A SCANNER DARKLY, BLADE RUNNER, MINORITY REPORT, and TOTAL RECALL, but also such classics as VERTIGO, as well as original animations to illustrate the theorist’s stories done in an appropriately graphic novel style.
A consideration of the limits of perception makes for an intriguing documentary, and in Ascher’s capable hands, one that is lively, disquieting, paradigm-questioning, and thoroughly entertaining. Especially considering that the interviews were conducted via zoom (thank you COVID). Bemusement abounds, as does amusement, and when it’s all over, don’t fight the urge to prove that you are not actually a brain in a laboratory jar.