What if our lives are part of a giant computer simulation? It sounds like a topic meant for a late-night college dorm room, but for decades this question has been seriously considered by acclaimed artists, scientists, and academic researchers. It’s a subject that comes with long and twisting rabbit holes and in A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX, a documentary that just had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, director Rodney Asher ventures down them all and discovers a myriad of conclusions. Some of them lead to dark topics so be prepared, but for the most part, the film is an entertaining piece of philosophical quandary.
Largely structured in chapters, Asher tackles the theory piece by piece from the earliest renditions in ancient times, to its modern practicality and function, and how it has affected the lives of those who have taken it most seriously. Asher does his best to remain objective to the conversation (although he has personally said that he is “pretty sure” we’re not living in a simulation) but to guide his viewers, he gathers a select group of subjects that do believe that our world is a virtual construct and who are happy to reveal how they came to this conclusion. Some of them are average people, but a few are real academic scientists who have studied the subject to a point where they can’t see the world in any other way. And tucked between these conversations are archival clips of author Philip K. Dick preaching on the topic, as well as Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson both confessing that they think about it often.
Whether you’re familiar with the subject or not, there are moments in the documentary that become a bit much to handle, comprehend, or maybe even take seriously. Thankfully, Asher seems to be aware of this and sprinkles in bits of levity that keeps the film on its tracks. The biggest example of this is the replacement of the on-camera subjects with digital avatars that animate seamlessly with their movements, taking on forms of a cyborg or a metallic sphinx. As this project was filmed during the pandemic, we can assume this came about by necessity, but it is nevertheless most appropriate for the subject matter as well as a humorous quirk that keeps the film from drowning in its own existential dread.
But these people are far from jokes in the eyes of the filmmaker, and their personal stories of how they came to their beliefs certainly have merit. We hear from one person who documented patterns in his everyday life to eerie conclusions, as well as another who describes a near-death experience. And then in a dark, third act turn, we meet a subject by voice only, as he calls Asher to explain how he was deeply affected by The Matrix, and how his assessments resulted in serious consequences.
But while taking the subject seriously, there comes an early caveat which points out that since the beginning of human study, our understanding of how a human body (or celestial power) functions can only go as far as current technology allows. Because of this, the film is filled with comparisons and references to video games and movies, with memorable clips interspersed throughout to create another entertaining element for the casual viewer. And so, the documentary is not necessarily here with the agenda to convince you that our world is artificial. Rather, its goal is to get you out of your comfort zone and entertain new lines of thought. How you leave the film is entirely up to you, but at the very least, it will give you a topic of conversation for your next (Zoom) dinner party.
You can stream A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX now in our Virtual Movie Palace, and make sure to check out this Friday’s new virtual titles LEONA and RUTH: JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS, the latter of which I will be writing about here next week.
And of course, don’t forget that starting this Friday you can attend movies again at the Michigan and State! We open with the much anticipated MINARI playing all weekend at the State and a special Valentine’s Day screening of A HERO FOR A NIGHT at the Michigan. Seating is very limited so we recommend reserving your tickets now if you plan to join us back in the theaters.
Stay safe and see you soon!