SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – What if everything you knew was a simulation? This is the question behind director Rodney Ascher‘s sci-fi documentary A Glitch in the Matrix which made its premiere at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Exploring ideas of simulation theory, parallel dimensions, and alternate reality, the film is a mind-melting archive of modern existentialism that connects classic philosophy with the modern theories on life, the universe, and everything in an entertaining, but tertiary treatise on a ponderous subject.
The film, in an expert touch, opens with an interview. An interview with an AR (Alternate Reality) personality establishes a key theory; Man’s perception of reality is dictated by the existing technology. When computers were born, the central nervous system was referred to as a computer. When Plato was fumbling through life he imagined people in a cave viewing shadow projections. Now, inundated by technology and simulation we theorize the unknowable to be a computer program. This moment sets the hypothesis for an idea that is both fascinating and ultimately, unanswerable.
Along the way, we are treated to a parade of remarkable ZOOM interviews with avatars (video interviews with constructed visual representations) who share their personal recollections of self-awareness and worldly perception. One has a moment of childhood realization as the others around him sing hymnals in a church. Another begins to question the functional repetition of working at Applebee’s and playing video games with friends. Another who is obsessed with the Matrix films goes to the point of committing the unspeakable in an attempt to find the break in the code, as it were.
What of it, though? Director Rodney Ascher presents a litany of theoretical interviews that are both entertaining and chilling. But what of those who have explored these realms with more substantial tools? The framework of the entire documentary hangs on a speech given by Phillip K. Dick, in France, in 1977 in which he questions life, perception, and reality itself. We are treated to archival quotes from Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The point being that these moments captured could have been more effectively used to counter the utter abyss that current philosophers seemed to have jumped into. The deep end of a digital pool that offers no answers and many more questions.
A Glitch in the Matrix succeeds in proving that there is nothing new under the sun. While we perceive a computer-generated world of random synchronicity and unexplainable connections, our forefathers merely looked at shadows on a wall. Had I one note for the film, it would have been to balance the thought out articulation of today’s greater minds with today’s average thinker. That is where the true mystery lay. With 8 billion people on a planet connected within 6 degrees of separation it stands to reason that a more universal thread might be found. We have the sensational, and the grounded. Both are honest in their perception, yet here we had the opportunity to merge the two. Alas…
Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.