Mind-blowing, boggling, bending: ‘A Glitch in the Matrix’ is Sundance’s red pill

Photo of Glitch in the Matrix at Sundance
Sundance Institute/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Is everything fake? The question of whether our reality is indeed “real” troubles and fascinates many. Simulation theory postulates that our entire existence is a computer simulation, like a video game in which we are actually walking codes controlled by an operator of higher intelligence. This theory is the focus of “A Glitch in the Matrix,” a documentary directed by Rodney Ascher, premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. “A Glitch in the Matrix” plays with questions that have plagued humanity since the dawn of time and consciousness: What are we? Why are we here? What is the true state of reality?

Ascher is best known for “The Nightmare,” a documentary about the petrifying condition of sleep paralysis, and “Room 237,” which explores fringe interpretations of “The Shining.” “A Glitch in the Matrix” sees Ascher continue on his trajectory of having the proficiency and courage to explore ideas, conditions and questions which are frightening and strange.

The documentary utilizes a plethora of media to carry the viewer along: Youtube video clips, headlines, speeches and journeys through Minecraft worlds are featured generously. Some interviewees even appear as 3D avatars, while reenactments of memories they share are animated and made to look like a computer game. These features of the film truly engross the audience into the world of simulation theory and make “A Glitch in the Matrix” compelling not only theoretically, but visually.

The interviewees describe observations that many people make note of in their own lives — odd synchronicities, patterns, the phenomenon of the Mandela effect and instances of deja vu. The film allows viewers to sit back, relax and explore the thoughts in the back of their mind about the world around them and how they function within it.

The documentary pays homage to the iconic, mind-altering and, for some, incredibly addicting 1999 film, “The Matrix,” which brought simulation theory to mainstream media. Many people in “A Glitch in the Matrix” and at large cite “The Matrix” as the film that forever altered their view of the world around them. In the same way that Neo from “The Matrix” takes the red pill to understand the truth of the world he inhabits, “A Glitch in the Matrix” may prove to be a red pill for those viewers previously unexposed to the mind-bending simulation theory. Because of this, the documentary may teeter into the realm of overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.

In this regard, the documentary is self-aware, noting how simulation theory can lead people on a path of curiosity, paranoia or dissociation. “A Glitch in the Matrix” takes the time to describe and illustrate how believing that the people who inhabit our world are simply fake can lead to a dangerous amount of nihilism and possibly destructive violence. As noted by one interviewee, however, understanding or believing simulation theory does not have to drastically alter our daily lives. Processing new information and ideas do not have to change the fundamental values that connect us to one another: empathy, respect and love.

Although it tackles a perplexing subject, the film presents information in a comprehensible manner. It features expert testimony from Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher known for his writings on simulation theory and snippets of Philip K. Dick, a science fiction writer who developed futuristic worlds such as the one in the film “Blade Runner.” The documentary is essentially a rabbit hole come to life in a little less than 2 hours, with its references ranging from Plato’s allegory of the cave to SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s opinion on the simulation theory.

The film’s most precarious point is its brief mention of religion, which can be a major conflict for many viewers. However, the documentary presents and flirts with simulation theory without aiming to be a black-and-white, irrefutable explanation of our reality and existence. “A Glitch in the Matrix” is a fun, mind-blowing watch that allows one’s mind to wander into the inconceivable. So, what if we are living in a simulation?

Contact Daniella Lake at [email protected].