A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX (2021)
Directed by Rodney Ascher
On digital from 5th February 2021
On DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from 10th May 2021
Following The Shining doc Room 237 and The Nightmare Rodney Ascher returns with A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX – a documentary questioning whether we’re in fact living in a simulation, much like the driving idea sci-fi movie ‘The Matrix’ presented us with in 1999.
The documentary is mainly comprised of talking heads, a large percentage of which are blokes who are represented on-screen by a computer generated avatar. I can understand why this was done and it fits in with the idea that we’re living in an artificial construct so why not choose your own avatar to be featured in it. However, I found these avatars very distracting when watching the documentary and it made it hard to take their words seriously in some cases, especially with the choice of avatars chosen with one guy looking like a knight that says ni and another like a chrome Anubis.
Filling in much of the space between these interviews, or simply used as a visual whilst an individual is talking, is a series of video clips taken from movies and more computer generated imagery, most of which simulates a scenario which is being talked about. I found these CGI bits to be quite nauseating to watch, triggering my motion sickness, and I wish they could have been done in a better way. To be honest, I’d have preferred it if more people spoke honestly on camera without the CG avatars or surreal scenarios. Having an individual’s face blurred would have been fine but as a result of the quirky avatars the subject loses a bit of credibility. This isn’t helped by the fact that the opinions of each of the interviewees also seem to dance around the idea of a simulation, whilst exploring other concepts and their own personal experiences. It’s like they go off on a tangent and it’s hard to keep the ideas together as they unshackle their perceptions of reality which sound more like fantasy than anything scientifically plausible.
I’m someone who’s deeply interested in the subject of realities, dimensions, control, dreams, tech and origins. I even owned Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation at one point (I’ll admit it was a bit beyond my comprehension, unfortunately) and I’ve read other books that explore these theories as touched upon in The Matrix film and the idea that we could be living in a world created by others. I don’t feel this documentary probed into this idea well. A good documentary has a driving narrative and I thought I knew what this one was but the resulting film doesn’t make a great case for the simulation theory nor does it fairly show both sides of the coin. It’s too loose to even make an impact. Even though the film is broke up into chapters, it still feels like it’s lacking structure and just meanders at times without gripping the viewer. I found this with Ascher’s previous work too so I feel a lot has to do with his style of filmmaking. For those watching to see more about the ideas posed in The Matrix may be disappointed that it’s reserved for a couple of chapters at most, however the bulk of it is focused on the adoration the movie got. One interviewee describes his obsession with the film prior to him shooting and killing his parents. His belief in the film’s concepts was going to be used in his legal defence in court as he stood trial, known as The Matrix Defence (a version of the insanity defence) before he ended up pleasing guilty. The film alludes to the fact The Matrix Defence has been used in other cases, one being the Lee Malvo sniper case.
One thing I did enjoy about A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX is the inclusion of science-fiction author Philip K. Dick who’s works often question the nature of reality, technology and authorities in control of our minds and lives. You only have to look at the ideas of The Man In The High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall) and Minority Report, which were adapted into films and television series, to know that his mind was truly open to ideas. The documentary showcases an interview with Dick taken at a Q+A session in France many years ago with an audience in attendance. He discusses the ideas of other lives, memories and deja vu, not to mention dreams, some of which went on to influence his writing, one of these being The Exegesis; a work that involved Dick’s notes and journals following visionary experiences in February and March of 1974 (referred to as 2-3-74), edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem.
Running at 108 minutes, this documentary is a tad too long and could have been shortened considering the narrative structure is too casual to have a natural ending. Tighter editing, stricter narrative and a collection of better talking heads with facts and legitimate examples rather than personal opinions and experiences would have provided a much more thought-provoking affair to endure on a Friday night during lockdown. Alas, it was not meant to be.