A Glitch in the Matrix

A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX is this year’s documentary from director Rodney Ascher, known for that THE SHINING thing, ROOM 237, and that sleep terrors thing, THE NIGHTMARE. I haven’t actually seen those, so I knew him from the 2001 DJ Qbert animated movie WAVE TWISTERS, which he was an editor on. That film’s co-director Syd Garon is the animation director for this one.

It’s about people who believe in various forms of simulation theory – the idea that whoah, what if, like, life isn’t real we’re just, like, some dude playing a video game? I don’t think depiction equals endorsement here. Ascher just thinks it’s an interesting idea and/or group of people, probly. Otherwise he’s a guy in a video game making a movie-within-a-video-game about maybe he’s a guy in a video game. (Actually, one interview subject does say that.)

It’s a really cleverly put together documentary – I wish more of them would invest this much energy into visual invention. “Witnesses” are interviewed over Zoom and then replaced in the footage with animated characters – robots, lion men, aliens with big brains inside glass domes – but still talking over Zoom from their ordinary homes. At first I thought these were fetishists insisting on communicating through avatars, before realizing it’s a conceit of the movie to depict reality as simulated. So people look like video game type characters, exteriors are from Google Street View, a whole sequence is animated in Minecraft. The stories and concepts they discuss are illustrated with computer animation, sometimes crude, but generally with aesthetics in mind – they generally hit a sweet spot between acknowledging absurdity and riding some kind of retro cyberpunk wave.

Yes, that also means there’s a synth score – it’s by Ascher’s usual composer, Jonathan Snipes of the experimental hip hop group clipping. (He also did MASK OF THE NINJA starring Casper Van Dien.)

The title, of course, refers to THE MATRIX, the movie, since it gave many of them the idea. More than one of them seem to think it’s an interesting story that THE MATRIX, of all things, was what made them contemplate if they were living in the premise of THE MATRIX. Who’d have guessed that’s what did it?

But even more than THE MATRIX, the movie is built around recordings of a Philip K. Dick (NEXT) talk at a science fiction conference in 1977 where he expressed an apparently sincere belief that some of his books, including The Man in the High Castle, were his fragmented memories of alternate realities he’d experienced. He either inspired or came to the same conclusion as the Wachowskis about “glitches in The Matrix” when he declared, “We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs.”

I hesitated to watch this movie for a pretty good reason: the very topic annoys the absolute shit out of me. Sure, it’s possible that our life is all an illusion. Or that we live on the back of a giant space turtle, or on a speck in a flower that Horton the elephant is clutching in his trunk. The interviewees have no evidence to support any of these theories, because obviously there is no evidence, could not be any evidence. So they reminisce about the time when they started picturing they were on sets like in THE TRUMAN SHOW, or survived a crazy drunk driving accident that must’ve been impossible. At their worst they jibber jabber inane quasi-reasoning or, in one case, reverently quote South African emerald mine heir Elon Musk pulling a figure out of his ass for the percentage of likelihood that we live in a simulation. Yeah, I guess if a rich guy says he crunched the numbers, that settles it.

If all we’ve ever known was a fabrication the whole time, whatever’s behind the curtain must be something beyond our comprehension and imagination, right? Nah, these people assume everything is the same as video games. One guy even thinks he’s not the player, but an “NPC,” since his repetitive tasks and interactions working at a grocery store remind him of something that could be programmed. And I guess he was also programmed to know that he was programmed.

As I was dreading, the movie features my hated foe, “The Mandela Effect” – the idea that if many people share the same incorrect memory about something it must actually be correct but remembered from an alternate reality or dimension. One of the most popular examples of this is that people remembered the weirdly spelled Berenstain Bears books as being spelled Bearenstein Bears. We are living in a time so sick, so self-obsessed and so stupid that what we once called “common misconceptions” are now used as evidence of a split in our very reality.

I come from that other dimension where he says “Luke, I’m your father.” I mean, what else could it be? That I misquoted? Impossible.

I have trouble expressing to you how much it stresses me out to think about these motherfuckers choosing to rework their entire understanding of existence around a corny sci-fi movie concept rather than just admit that sometimes they’re mistaken about things. But the part of it that most gets in my craw is the name, which comes from author Fiona Broome, who when Mandela died couldn’t believe it because she coulda fuckin sworn he died in prison in the ‘80s. She started a websight about it and has published 15 volumes of Kindle books compiled from reader comments. An Amazon description for one of them warns, “[Do not be fooled by those who want to hide the truth. The insights in this book are not available online. Not since the Mandela Effect website was attacked by those who want to silence us.]

Most of her other books are about ghost hunting, so she already lives in a different reality than me, but the idea that enough people went along with “the Mandela Effect” to make it a common term makes me pull my hair out. If you were too young to pay attention to world politics during that period, or even if you were too ignorant for the enormity of Mandela’s life to have made an impression on you, that’s fine! It’s also fine that you never saw Spike’s MALCOLM X (featuring a Mandela cameo after he was freed), let alone Clint’s INVICTUS (starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela in his first presidential term). Don’t worry about it. We can’t all be aware of everything in this world.

But come on, bud. Come on. When you get to the point of ASSUMING THAT THE FACT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THIS MEANS YOU’RE FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION I can no longer be patient with you. I want you to abandon this asinine theory, I want you to apologize, I want you to read about Apartheid, I want you to apologize again, repeat if desired (which it is). That is all I ask for now. Because I’m lenient.

(Sorry. Deep breath.)

There’s one guy A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX keeps coming back to who’s talking over a phone. We just hear his voice and don’t get an animated avatar. He’s this kinda sad, tired sounding guy talking about how much he loved THE MATRIX and how he started always wearing trenchcoats, thinking of himself as Neo and believing life is a simulation. And then eventually, after picking up the phone and reciting Neo’s speech from the end of the movie to whoever he imagined was listening on the other end, he went and shot his parents to death.

This is a very dark and upsetting story, of course. Neither the shooter or the documentary argue that THE MATRIX or the nu-metal tunes he mentions are to blame for what he did. But I think this was important for the movie to address. If people believe life isn’t real, and the people around them aren’t real, doesn’t that encourage them to go on rampages like this? Of course not, argues one guy – just because people aren’t real doesn’t mean you’re going to kill them. (I guess I’m not familiar with that video game.)

Most of these people try to argue that “life is a simulation” is the only logical conclusion to come to, so I was relieved when one admitted that believing in something like this is just faith, no different from believing in a religion. Something you believe in because you want to. This comment has the double whammy effect of reminding me to be accepting of people believing this stuff just as I would be accepting of someone’s religious beliefs, while also painting religious beliefs as kind of silly by equating them with this. We try to cram the unfathomable into the little boxes of concepts we’re familiar with, so hundreds of years ago people figured “I know how this must work, the sun must be a pharaoh, and he’s flying on a golden ship.” And now they think, “I know how this must work, it’s like [popular video game or movie].”

If anything, the fact that we keep coming up with this shit is evidence that life and the universe will always be beyond our understanding. I think you just gotta try to be okay with that. When it comes down to it it doesn’t really matter if there’s a spoon or there is no spoon. Either way we’re dealing with a spoon here.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 10th, 2021 at 4:08 pm and is filed under Documentary, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “A Glitch in the Matrix”

  1. Yeah, sadly that does sound like a movie about people who I normally avoid.

  2. People who are utterly oblivious about their blatantly self-serving delusions seems to be this guy’s stock in trade. All of the talking heads in his SHINING doc were shocked–shocked, I tell you–that the hidden messages Kubrick deliberately inserted into the film just HAPPENED to coincide exactly with their own obsessions. Then there was that special he made for Shudder about grown-ass people convinced they saw something supernatural in a perfectly middle-of-the-road movie trailer they saw once when they were kids.

    Pop culture was a mistake, you guys.

  3. I remembered them being pronounced “Burn-steen” Bears, so what dimension did I come from?

  4. Yes. Thank you for this rant, Vern, you articulated my feelings perfectly. The last paragraph in particular sums up why I’m agnostic. Maybe there’s an all-seeing, all-powerful God who has a plan for my life and maybe there isn’t, but either way, I have to live my life.

  5. These type of people fascinate me for the wrong reasons. I’ve seen and heard things I still can’t believe I have witnessed. I only say this because if there is one thing I trust it’s my eyes and ears. But I just keep my mouth shut about it even though it also reinforces that I don’t know shit about anything in the universe. Just like everybody else. The fact that they’re so adamant about their theory being the truth is as fascinating as watching a doc about stubborn religious fanatics. So what I’m trying to say here is I might track this down this weekend and watch it during a smoke session.

  6. I could have sworn macaulay culkin was in Blank Cheque and Casper instead of Brian Bonsal and Devon Sawa, and I can’t even imagine the level of conceited I’d need to be when I learnt I was wrong to think that, ‘no I couldn’t be wrong. reality is wrong’ like… holy shit.

  7. Yeah, I’m kind of done with this guy and his “lets make a documentary featuring any lunatic I can get to sit in front of a camera for $5 and a sandwich” shtick. I guess my main gripe is that he never interviews any rational person to either destroy or put these nutbags’ arguments into perspective. It’s the Joe Rogan defense of “impartial” journalism. “I’m just asking questions, man.”

    In the case of this doc, we get a lot of sad white guys with crippling main character syndrome who because of bad childhoods and then lack of sleep or too much vaping (one guy said he works in 12 day weeks, which is never questioned), believe they have seen beyond the veil and know what’s really going on. Video of Elon Musk is thrown in randomly to legitimize them, and then when salient points almost get made (“Maybe Im NOT the main character in a story?”), they’re quickly cut away from. The wife and I were literally screaming “Yes, you are trapped in a system! It’s called capitalism!! That’s why you’re fucking depressed! Get off Minecraft and start community organizing!!” Bah, Monday, right?

  8. I don’t think Rogan is a good comparison, because he brings on terrible or ridiculous people and pretends like they’re reasonable and that it’s important to find common ground with them and show that they’re cool guys after all. I think a better comparison is AMERICAN PIMP, a “give them enough rope” approach where trying to show “the other side” would insult the audience and make the movie incredibly dull. It definitely comes across how sad this is without having to have some guy tell me how sad this is.

    However, I still find these idea so annoying that I got impatient with it, much like WAKING LIFE, which I have not seen since it was a new movie but at the time I found it to be a torturous experience.

  9. Maybe Rogan was a bad comparison (platforming bigots isn’t the same as providing a forum for stoned dudes to theorize about the Matrix), but I disagree with your assertion that we the audience are supposed to be laughing at the folks documented here. I base that off of two things: 1.) I saw Room 237 at an early screening with Ascher and one of the people featured in the doc (Amy Taubin did the Q&A?!), and Ascher seemed to sympathize with the man and felt he was providing a platform for unrecognized / fringe film theories in his documentary. 2.) Elon Musk is…sigh…taken seriously by a LOT of people. And when he’s on mainstream TV talking about this shit, I don’t see how it does anything but legitimize ALL the talking heads in the doc?

    I think there IS some interesting stuff to be mined out of this topic but a lot of it just missed the mark. Not really discussing mental health in modern times as well as late-stage capitalism i.e. stuff that answers a lot of the questions people in the doc had, is a disservice not only to the subjects, but to the audience who may not be aware of those things. Thinking we all live in a computer is a funny thought for neurotypical folks to ponder whilst toking, but when it leads others to kill their parents, yeah, I think some alternative perspective is needed.

  10. You’re right, it’s not about laughing at them, he is a very sympathetic filmmaker, but I don’t think you’re supposed to think they’re being reasonable. (At least in this one – haven’t seen 237.) And since he’s the one presenting the guy who killed his parents after the other ones he’s the one leading you to think about what you just said, right? I just don’t think it would be improved by some expert talking head or narrator explaining that to you in case you didn’t pick up on it.

  11. Vern, you clearly have much more faith in humanity than I do. Again, I personally didn’t think it was a good doc so nothing could really improve it in my eyes outside of a competent director handling the material. But my point is – and I’m really trying to NOT use adjectives like “dangerous” or “irresponsible” here- making a doc about of bunch of wackos and their theories on The Shining is one thing, but taking that same completely hands off, narrative free approach when documenting fringe theories that have gotten people killed and not even mentioning what could lead someone to take the thought of living in a simulation to its nihilistic end point (as well as taking the time to slickly animate what what is in the killer’s head – cool, I guess?), again, I don’t want moralize, but it gave me an icky feeling. I’m glad you saw clear condemnation in the way the movie was edited, because I sure didn’t?!

  12. I guess in this case my hatred of pedantic documentaries supersedes my lack of faith in humanity. But also I just can’t picture somebody watching this movie and thinking, “Yeah, these guys have a point!”

  13. I read an interesting (paraphrase, not quote) from (I think) George Bernard Shaw the other day, saying that the real divide w/r/t religion isn’t “believers vs atheists,” it’s “people to whom the questions religion raises matter vs people to whom those questions don’t matter.” I’m in the latter category. The evidence of my senses is enough for me. I mean, just thinking about how different the ways other animal species perceive the world are from the way human beings perceive the world is enough to keep me going for the rest of my life, never mind whatever ooga-booga bullshit people come up with to make themselves feel significant.

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