Directed by Rodney Ascher
Starring Nick Bostrom, Erik Davis, Paul Gude, Joshua Cooke
Anyone who has ever sat through an Epistemology class can attest to feeling completely overwhelmed at times with the nothingness of it all. It’s frustrating to try and convince your professor that you’re not dreaming. You just know, right? Fine. Prove it. Philosophy works off of logical building blocks designed by the intellectual giants whose statues we now pass in stale museums. Rodney Ascher’s new documentary A Glitch in the Matrix does cover Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” but its real focus is how solipsism and video game culture have merged during the cyber age. Are we living in a simulation? If we are, now what?
This is really Rodney Ascher’s third horror-themed documentary, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. The Matrix didn’t feel like a horror movie either, until Neo emerged into his new battery pod reality after taking the red pill. Ascher’s previous two films – the deep dive doc Room 237 about The Shining and his exploration of sleep paralysis in The Nightmare – are both seeped in terror. Glitch in the Matrix is more subtle, but what could be more frightening than being cognizant of the fact that this reality is powered by some mega-powered supercomputer in the sky?
Featuring some of the most interesting talking heads you’ve ever seen in a documentary, things kickoff with a digital avatar of Paul Gude sharing his whacked out theories about our simulated faux world. Somehow, you lean in a little closer to listen when it’s Lion-O from Thundercats waxing poetic on the nature of self. Bouncing from bong theory to some fascinating footage of legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, Ascher’s cohorts try and convince us that our brains are actually in a vat on Alpha Centauri.
Really, the documentary ponders a new kind of “brain in vat” (BIV) sense data where our justified true belief (JTF) is regulated by a mysterious machine. Basically, Descartes’ edict “Cogito, Ergo Sum” is recalibrated for a Billie Eilish “Therefore, I Am” world. Even dipping its toe into the world of true crime, Wachowski obsessed killer Joshua Cooke who used the famed “Matrix defense” is also profiled.
Interweaving grand, existential ideas we’ve pondered for centuries with wild theories about virtual reality, this latest creation myth is both profound and ridiculous – and undeniably compelling. The mindwalk that Ascher’s latest traverses is brilliant for another reason. It’s a pathway to the philosophers of old and sci-fi classics in film and literature, graphing them together like a motherboard brain searching for every relevant connection. Just from a marketing standpoint, A Glitch in the Matrix has so many promotional tie-ins and cultural touchstones that it shouldn’t have much trouble going mainstream. Magnolia Pictures, having just acquired the worldwide rights to the film, should be thrilled by the possibilities. (For reviews like this in the Google machine, it’s an SEO dream.)
Ascher has created a different cinematic language inside the world of documentary filmmaking making big ideas immediately more accessible to the masses. Or at least to the people that watch documentaries in the first place. His style compliments this subject particularly well, using pop culture staples like Tron and The Matrix as a clever cheat into a backdoor Intro to Philosophy class. Because of that immediate accessibility, A Glitch in the Matrix is almost the equivalent to the Stephen Hawking documentary A Brief History of Time.
Once again, Ascher picks material that is compelling on its own, but then uses the documentary form to spotlight the subjects just as much, if not more, than the subject itself. If Room 237 shows obsessed fans with crazed theories about The Shining, then A Glitch in the Matrix highlights the passion of keyboard intellectuals trying to prove we’re living in a simulation. They might not be more convincing, but they’re a lot smarter.
If Room 237 shows obsessed fans with crazed theories about The Shining, then A Glitch in the Matrix highlights the passion of keyboard intellectuals trying to prove we’re living in a simulation. They might not be more convincing, but they’re a lot smarter.