Using animation, archive and clips from the movie franchise, Rodney Ascher’s genre-bending doc gives philosophers and kooks space to explain why we are living in a synthetic world
With Room 237, a deep dive into theories about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, writer-director-animator Rodney Ascher practically invented a new sub-genre of documentary: the fathoms-five-low inspection of fandom theories and nuttery. Tonally blending sympathetic dispassion and ever-so-slight amused mockery over a fast-shuffling montage of clips that just fit under the bar of fair use, Ascher’s technique created a fascinating brainstorm essay equally about cinema, spectatorship and the ability of works of art to generate interpretations well beyond the intentions of their makers.
His latest, A Glitch in the Matrix, pulls off the trick again, appropriately enough on an even bigger scale. This time the subject is simulation theory: the hypothesis that we are all living inside a synthetic world, like the human beings in The Matrix movies who are kept in pods, jacked into a giant supercomputer that injects a delusion straight into their brainstems. The film interviews individuals with differing opinions on simulation theory: some philosophers, some journalists and some likable kooks who fervently believe they’re living in a simulacrum, a few of whom appear disguised in digital avatar get-ups that add a bizarre comic layer.