A Glitch in the Matrix (CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures)

Starring: Proponents of Simulation Theory, including Philip K. Dick, Elon Musk, and even Plato in his own way

Director: Rodney Ascher

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (I’d Give it a PG, or Maybe PG-13 for Some Heavy Moments)

Release Date: February 5, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

Computers are everywhere nowadays! There’s computers on our desks, computers in our laps, computers in our hands, computers in our pockets, computers in our TVs, computers in our cars, and even (I’m assuming) computers in our toilets. Are there also computers in our heads? Or to phrase it another way: are our brains computers? Or are we just inclined to think that way because computers are the dominant technology of our era? Early on in A Glitch in the Matrix, directed by Rodney Ascher, one interview subject muses how humans tend to conceptualize their bodies according to models analogous to the innovations of the day. When aqueducts were big, it was thought that the body was ruled by humors; when telegraphs had their moment, so too did nerve wires. Now it’s computers’ turn, and with it, the popular emergence of a hypothesis that our reality may just be a simulation.

A Glitch in the Matrix initially positions itself as a scientific-sociological examination, but it soon becomes clear that it is also (and perhaps primarily) a piece of visual film criticism, much like Ascher’s 2012 doc Room 237, which overlaid narration of fan interpretation on clips of The Shining. Now he’s turned his lens to the Wachowskis’ landmark sci-fi franchise, which has set the tone for decades of speculation that we may not exactly be in control of our own existence. The evidence that we’re living in a simulation is mostly a matter of probability: if there’s a civilization with the capacity to create simulated realities, then it’s probably able to create billions and billions of them. Ergo, most of the realities that theoretically exist are probably simulations. Personally, while I’m open to the possibility, I’ve never found Simulation Theory all that convincing, and A Glitch in the Matrix doesn’t do much to change my mind. But it’s not trying to prove the validity of the theory so much as it is examining the consequences of living in a world in which a sizable number already buy into it. And on that score, there is plenty to dig into.

Where Room 237 was a surprisingly rich text devoted to a very niche topic, A Glitch in the Matrix is an unsurprisingly overflowing work devoted to an unruly and expansive topic. Where the former was occasionally infuriating in how its theorizing could venture so far away from anything resembling everyday thinking, the latter holds your attention with an ethos (or at least a veneer) of plausibility and respectability. And even if you’re not too inclined to agree with the likes of Elon Musk or Philip K. Dick, A Glitch in the Matrix can still work as a cinematic experience. The whole thing is so gosh dang enveloping, thanks to the full-body 3D-animated avatars that many of the interview subjects employ, the surround sound of Jonathan Snipes’ plinking electronic score, and the general sense that you’ve fallen down a wormhole that is set to take over your entire life.

Ascher is also ultimately wise to explore the occasionally deadly consequences of embracing Simulation Theory. For some people, the hypothesis is an invitation to commit acts of violence without any consequences. But as certain real-world (or simulated world) examples demonstrate, a lack of agency does not mean a lack of repercussions. That is made terrifyingly clear in the case of Joshua Cooke, who was convicted of killing his parents with a shotgun in 2003 after convincing himself that he was living in a Matrix-style virtual reality. It’s a sobering detour in what first appeared to be a rather playful documentary. As far as I can tell, A Glitch in the Matrix comes down pretty strongly in favor of a relativist approach to its ideas. You can accept Simulation Theory or not, but if you do, there’s no reason that you should dramatically revolutionize your behavior. Go ahead and jump down that rabbit hole if you must, but keep close track of the trail behind and ahead of you.

A Glitch in the Matrix is Recommended If You Like: Room 237, New York Magazine’s February 4, 2019 issue, The “A Clockwork Origin” episode of Futurama

Grade: 4 out of 5 Realities