Premiering at this week’s Sundance Film Festival, A Glitch In The Matrix ponders a very large idea: what if what we perceive as reality is in fact a computer simulation? Talking to academics, artists, and hardcore believers discuss the various clues around us that suggest not all is as it seems.
Director Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 allowed us to dive headfirst into theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, and he takes a similar approach here. The media focused on this time is an archive lecture by author Phillip K Dick, in which he recounts a hallucinogenic experience that led him to believe this reality may not be real. There are also many video game clips, and as the title suggest the 1999 sci-fi hit The Matrix is referenced throughout. The entire film could be reframed as an essay on how popular that film was with a certain generation.
Like a theoretical jam session, a lot of ideas are thrown around and many of them seem to make sense. The interviewees, some of which are replaced with CGI avatars, discuss how technology often mirrors what we know of our own bodies, and as such we may see glimpses of where we came from in the current wave of technological advancements.
The main argument is that you can’t disprove the idea of a simulation, and possibility and inevitability are often treated as one and the same. Lines are drawn between theories espoused by Elon Musk and Dick, but the arguments are wooley and unsatisfying: an experience in a levitation tank, and a remarkable turn of fortune on a trip to Mexico are all these individuals need to believe that there is something else going on.
This is where the film accidentally wanders into an interesting side discussion. We get glimpses of the personal lives of those we talk to. All but one or two are American men aged 35-45, who came of age around the time The Matrix was released and seemed to attach this artificial reality theory to whatever was going on in their lives.
As a viewer, the pressing question is not whether we are in a simulation, but why these people need to believe so desperately. Hearing stories of unhappy childhoods, broken homes, and depression, it’s revealing that this theory is used as a way of making sense of chaos. When it’s declared that “someone’s got their hand on the scale”, it sounds much more like hope than a conclusion.
This need reaches a dark point where The Wachowski Sisters’ film is latched on to by Joshua Cooke. By phone, he recalls buying into the idea of the first Matrix film fully in the early 2000s, immersing himself in the style, music, and concepts of the movie so fully that he believed he was in The Matrix and resolved to murder his adoptive parents with a shotgun. While this documentary is unlikely to sway non-believers, it does succeed in illustrating how belief can go too far.
As a scientific debate, A Glitch In The Matrix is little more than a group of enthusiasts arguing ‘what if?’ It’s likely to be the new favourite film of that person on your social feed who’s always sharing conspiratorial videos, but unlikely to make An Inconvenient Truth-style impact.
A Glitch In The Matrix is available on demand from 5th February