It’s just like a videogame.
Simulation theory is an interesting concept because it cannot be objectively measured. Even if someone came up with a definitive answer to the question of whether our reality is the base world or one of infinite copies created by an unknown architect, the life we are living right now remains “real.” If we have to die to discover a new existence, the one we leave behind isn’t erased. We don’t actively seek to die so we can get to Heaven. Point of fact: our deeds in life are what earn us a spot there. The captivating aspect isn’t therefore figuring out a truth. It’s reconciling the numerous possibilities swirling around us to realize our truth within them. And doing so can prove a very dangerous proposition.
Why? Because the world we hold as truth can be manipulated. As director Rodney Ascher‘s “experts” (Nick Bostrom and Emily Pothast have the most to say on the subject) share via their theses during the course of A Glitch in the Matrix, we react to the input we embrace. We see this happening more and more now with conspiracy theories and so-called “alternative facts” skewing people’s perception away from empirical truth towards what can only be described as mass hallucinations whether innocuous (the Mandela Effect) or cataclysmic (QAnon). So while some will facetiously interpret the daily coincidences they experience as proof of the world’s artificiality, others will go much further and actually strip themselves and those around them of their humanity in the pursuit of it.
Rather than dive into this disparity, however, Ascher decides to treat the subject similarly to how he did Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining. Where that film was the artwork the interviewees in his documentary Room 237 used as a communal touchstone to speculate upon, this latest piece uses the world around us. His “eyewitnesses” are thus treating reality like a movie to explain the moment they came to know our collective world is simulated and their “proof” as to why we should agree. Paul Gude, Brother Lœo Mystwood, Alex Levine, and Jesse Orion have either come to this conclusion as a result of religion, probability, pop culture, or mere happenstance. They’ve held onto it tightly not as conjecture, but irrefutable fact. And Ascher never plays devil’s advocate.
I’m not saying he should have. That’s not the movie he wanted to make. All I’m saying is that the decision to give them this platform to ramble left me incapable of investing in anything they were selling. The reason simulation theory is so potent as a hypothesis is because we can use it to question our reality and redefine our experience within it. To talk about creating our own realities atop the base is infinitely more rewarding than blindly accepting that we’ve yet to witness the base at all. The latter is a copout. Ascher’s “eyewitnesses” are merely relating anecdotes that show they’ve embraced the theory as a means to explain the unexplainable. If no one can disprove their solution, they never have to consider it’s wrong.
While hearing them tell these tales is entertaining (an ill-fated yet miraculous cautionary tale in Mexico being described as evidence of a “smart steering” function that equates escaping trouble with never being in trouble is a wild leap), but they use the theory as a parlor trick. It’s therefore difficult not to laugh at what they’re saying. I’ll be the first to apologize to each of them when we discover they were right this whole time, but they’re nothing more than conspiracy theorists until then. They’re fan-fiction storytellers like those in Room 237. Only instead of projecting their beliefs upon an object, they’re doing it upon us all. It’s a fascinating case study in the abstract that ultimately distances itself from the ramifications of its physical wake.
That Ascher never really communicates with this truth until we’re two-thirds of the way through the whole is a mistake in my book because it’s only when he does that A Glitch in the Matrix becomes an essential film. He lets Pothast talk about the danger of “othering” and his “eyewitnesses” (each shown as avatars created specifically for the movie as a nod to the blurring lines between online and offline) broach morality quandaries (“If this isn’t real, what’s stopping me from killing you?”), but those instances are treated as throwaway details amongst an hour plus of them. They work in tandem with the rest as equivalents when the dark underbelly of what they mean in action is so much more important. It’s not even close.
Enter Joshua Cooke. He may be Ascher’s in-road to touching upon the idea of using “The Matrix Defense” in court, (the Wachowski film is an obvious through-line considering its ubiquity when compared to Plato and Bostrom), but he ends up proving to be the puzzle piece that lifts a topic that had thus far been treated as a lark to the dramatically weighty subject matter it is. This is where Ascher exits the Minecraft sphere and web-cam frames to render memory itself as a videogame. We see a visual approximation of Cooke’s verbally recounted descent into a violent schizophrenic episode born from the question those other men wax on about without ever acting on it. Why? Because theories are fun. Acting on those theories is crazy.
What then does A Glitch in the Matrix actually deliver? Not much. It touches on a lot of aspects inherent to its subject without digging deep enough into them to do more than scratch the surface. That Ascher tries to juggle the absurd with the surreal is an admirable endeavor, but mixing them as equals does a disservice to both by simultaneously belittling the “eyewitnesses” in comparison to Cooke’s unforgettable nightmare and reducing that nightmare to just another anecdote. The film does spark conversation, though. It provides an appetizer (with legendary author Philip K. Dick‘s own earnest beliefs via a 1977 lecture as a backbone) into the feasibility that this outlandish science fiction concept might be real. Someone else will have to supply the main course.
[1-3] Scenes from A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.