If Elon Musk and Plato agree something might be a possibility, you have to take it seriously, but lemming Robin Hood users can’t invest in the “Matrix.” The idea that our world is a pre-programmed illusion goes back to Plato’s Cave, but it gained major new currency with the releasee of the Wachowskis’ The Matrix. Rodney Ascher explores the philosophical underpinnings of “simulation theory” through the lens of The Matrix and other science fiction films in A Glitch in the Matrix, which releases tomorrow on VOD and in select theaters, following its Sundance premiere.
There are a lot of people out there who suspect we might be living in a simulated construct, several of whom discuss their theories at length with Ascher, or rather their avatars do. Yet, the most important voice in the film is Philip K. Dick, seen in archival footage giving a speech to a bewildered French science fiction convention about his experiences perceiving alternate realities. It really was a keynote for the ages.
Ascher covers heady concepts, like Plato’s Cave (illustrated by Sam Weiss’s animated short, narrated by Orson Welles), Descartes’ “Solipsism,” Nick Bostrum’s “Simulation Hypothesis,” and the old “Brain in a jar” thought experiment. Ascher uses ample clips from science fiction films to exemplify their points, obviously including the Matrix trilogy and just about every PKD adaptation, but there is one conspicuous omission. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire (streaming on Kanopy) anticipated the themes of The Matrix and Tron way back in 1973, when it was produced for Western German television.
There is a lot of egg-headery in Glitch and some cool visuals. However, Ascher maintains an agnostic tone, fully exploring the dark side and shortcomings of the theory as well. On the plus side, media critic Emily Pothast compellingly reminds us of the tangible emotional benefits of human connections, very definitely including the physical kind. Conversely, Joshua Cooke provides a harrowing account of the murders he committed while in throes of extreme Matrix-fandom, allegedly believing his adopted parents were constructs of the Matrix.
Glitch will not leave viewers eager to re-watch The Matrix. Quite the contrary (unlike Ascher’s Room 237, which definitely makes you want to revisit The Shining). It is also why the exclusion of World on a Wire is so disappointing. In retrospect, Fassbinder’s film feels more positive. It is literally about protagonist Fred Stiller trying to figure out a way to embrace life outside the Simulacron, whereas much of The Matrix is really about death.
Regardless, Ascher still has a keen eye for telling visuals. When you get right down to it, any film that brings together Philip K. Dick and Orson Welles must be worth seeing. Recommended for fans of genre documentaries, A Glitch in the Matrix releases tomorrow (2/5) on-demand and in theaters.