A Glitch in the Matrix
by Hope Madden
Nobody makes documentaries quite like Rodney Ascher.
You can see the 2010 short that first got him the attention of the Sundance Film Festival, S from Hell, in its entirety on YouTube right now. I think you should. It gives you just a taste of the mixture of absurd, earnest, terrifying and funny that inform his nonfiction recipes.
His 2012 documentary feature debut, Room 237, gave us a glimpse of his own fascination with personal obsessions. Ascher’s interest in the opinions and voices of his subjects clearly allows them to feel the safety necessary to share deeply held and seemingly ludicrous ideas. It also gives the film a sense of exploration rather than judgment. You are truly invited to wonder what if?
His most potent and terrifying invitation, The Nightmare, is so sincere in its sleuthing it may convince you that the film itself has infected you with a debilitating condition. So it’s no surprise that any new effort from Ascher draws awed anticipation from weirdos and cinephiles alike (not that there’s a big difference between the two).
Plus a ton of utterly fascinating footage of Philip K. Dick speaking.
A Glitch in the Matrix, premiering earlier this week at Sundance and opening digitally (appropriately enough) this weekend, explores Simulation Theory. You know, that zany notion that we’re not real, we’re all living in a simulating played by beings of a higher intelligence.
Once again, Ascher’s meticulously built doc feels simultaneously playful and dark—two adjectives that suit the topic brilliantly. We’re reminded of Descartes attempts to prove that he exists, and before that, of Plato’s musings that we may be simply witnessing some form of life facsimile and not participating in reality at all.
So, it’s not a new idea. Perhaps the most intriguing notion the film brings up is that, when aquaducts were the height of technology, the world believed our bodies were at the mercy of our own humors. Once the telegraph became top tech, suddenly our bodies were run by electrical currents. And later, we “understood” that our brains were like computers.
It’s no surprise, then that in a virtual world, we lean toward the notion that reality is its own form of virtual reality. But Ascher digs much deeper, drawing images of a culture and personality type compelled by these ideas, and the hard potential consequences of a Matrix in the hands of someone less noble than Neo.
A Glitch in the Matrix becomes Ascher’s most complicated and poignant film.