Virtual Un-Realities

Anyone who saw Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 should be well prepared for his latest film, A Glitch in the Matrix. Room 237 took us into a world of obsessive fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, who searched the film for clues and hidden meanings in the film. Glitch also deals with out-there ideas. ‘Simulation theory’ deals with the notion that our world around us is a sophisticated computer programme – an idea that was peddled into the mainstream 22 years ago in the Wachowski’s landmark sci-fi The Matrix.

Ascher – who remains off-camera throughout – interviews several people that believe this, as they explain quite calmly exactly why they subscribe to these concepts. Oddly, several of them on screen are hidden behind bizarre and sometimes gruesome digital avatars. It’s never explained why – whether they wish to remain anonymous, perhaps – but it’s just one of the increasingly kooky aspects of the film.

Early on, there is footage of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, the man whose stories inspired such classic movies as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall. Dick is seen, in grainy footage, addressing a French audience in the late 1970s, as he begins to espouse on this very topic, delivering a speech that touches on science fiction, religion and philosophy.

Later, Ascher gets into videos games – Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption 2 are all glimpsed – as he explores the idea of NPCs (Non-Player Characters). In other words, those characters in games that are programmed with limited functions that you, as the main player, can interact with. Are such NPCs all around us in life? Are we all Player 1s in our very own game?

Illustrated with a bucker-load of clips from movies too, Glitch is a mixed bag of ideas, and not always successful (the avatars, for example, are very distracting). But it’s at its best when it introduces Joshua Cooke, via an audio-only interview – a young man who was left disturbed by his addiction to The Matrix movie. Whether it will convince you that we are indeed living inside a giant simulation or that these people are all insane, it’s another fascinating, offbeat work from Ascher.

A Glitch in the Matrix is available on demand from 5 February. For more details, click here.

Words: James Mottram