Consciousness and a possible deeper existing reality has been highly debated in science, philosophy and religious theology for centuries. However, one wild concept known as the simulation theory merges elements of all aforementioned topics while suggesting possible truths within the groundbreaking sci-fi cinematic masterpiece The Matrix (1999). For his latest documentary, A Glitch in the Matrix, filmmaker Rodney Ascher (The Nightmare 2015) chooses the red pill exploring this theory and tech-loving minds who subscribe to it. Although failing to investigate how deep this rabbit hole truly can go, Ascher’s exploration gives a fascinating glimpse into a theory that proposes the question: are we living in a simulation overseen by a higher intelligence?
While The Matrix was responsible for catapulting the simulation theory into the mainstream, an early rendition of this theory originated from classical philosophy and Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” story. Once again proving himself a thoughtful, resourceful and unconventional documentarian, Ascher portrays this ancient tale through crude animation reflecting a primitive time. However, as technology changed, so did our understanding of the human brain and nervous system functionality. As a result, this outlandish theory evolved in ways you might think came from the psychedelic fueled psychonaut. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
A pivotal point in Ascher’s film takes us back to the year 1977 and a lecture given by the brilliant sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. Known for his unorthodox stories that served as source material for such films as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Total Recall (Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1990), Dick captivated an unsuspecting audience at a sci-fi conference with ideas regarding our perceived reality while incorporating science, religion and philosophy. Using clips from this famous speech and insights from scholar Erik Davis, A Glitch in the Matrix shows how the now-deceased writer arrived at some of his unworldly conclusions. However, frequently shifting gears like an ADHD trip through Disney’s Tomorrowland, this documentary doesn’t stay on this origin story for long.
Combining humor with philosophical discussion, Ascher splices into his documentary interview segments with simulation theory believers Paul Gude, Alex LeVine, Laeo Mystwood and Jesse Orion. Being the visual driven filmmaker he is, Ascher displays these four interviewees onscreen as wild video game avatars, which compliments the documentary’s theme for obvious reasons. Although this visual gimmick initially feels goofy, one can’t help but still be mesmerized as you’re pulled into the stories told by these four individuals recalling how they came to believe in the simulation theory. These stories paired with creative CGI dramatizations, A Glitch in the Matrix offers plenty of bizarre entertainment, which is part of what makes for a good documentary. However, a great documentary includes intellectual substance backed by credible sources – a shortcoming of this film until introducing a key intellectual associated with the simulation theory.
Explaining where the simulation theory currently stands, Ascher goes straight to the man behind today’s modern take on the subject at hand. In an interview conducted via video call, Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom discusses the academic simulation argument he established in 2003. While this interview and a clip from tech billionaire/simulation theory advocate Elon Musk adds much needed additional substance to Ascher’s film, I can’t help but feel an opportunity was missed.
Although the four avatar-looking interviewees are thoroughly amusing and thought provoking, there isn’t much credibility behind their names. Deeper questions answered by an established name such as Bostrom could have helped balance out this entertainment-heavy documentary. Another approach that could have helped this promising premise along is a deeper dive into science, religious theology and philosophy. More directly addressing the possible connection between these topics and the simulation theory could have helped this documentary reach its full potential. By featuring various perspectives from physicists and spiritualists while referencing Albert Einstein and renowned philosopher Alan Watts paired with Ascher’s visuals, A Glitch in the Matrix could have been nothing short of a groundbreaking game-changer.
Regardless of what could have been, there is no denying the strong points of A Glitch in the Matrix. Touching concepts friendly to the notion of simulation theory such as solipsism, non-player characters and the Mandela Effect, there is still discussion that will appeal to your sci-fi loving inner-geek. However, the biggest strength of Ascher’s documentary is conversation involving ethics and morals. While the simulation theory is just another way of looking at the mysteries of the universe for some people, this can be dangerous territory for less grounded individuals. One such interviewee, Joshua Cooke, tells his story of chilling events that forever changed his life.
With little structure and focus, Ascher’s latest work is messy, but manages to hold itself together despite bouncing from interview to story and video clip to CGI and animation with voice-overs. For those less familiar with the reality warping concept, A Glitch in the Matrix is a fun mind-bending intro to the simulation theory. For others who find this concept fascinating, it is a worthwhile watch that will leave you wanting more … although wishing for it to be more organized. While Ascher may have only taken half of the red pill leaving so much unexplored territory, this certainly lays the groundwork for a mini-series to show just how deep this rabbit hole goes.