Rodney Ascher is quickly becoming one of our finest documentary filmmakers, bringing an almost auteur vision to the format. Whether he is bringing things that go bump in the night to life in The Nightmare, exploring the hidden meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in Room 237, or shining a light on the enigmatic shock-rock figure El Duce in The El Duce Tapes, the acclaimed filmmaker has certainly given us food for thought with his compelling and often shocking docs. His latest, A Glitch in the Matrix, explores the theory that our reality is some kind of artificial simulation is certainly toys with a thought-provoking hypothesis, but ultimately crumbles under the weight of its own ambition as it flies around wildly from theory to theory with jarring tonal shifts and baffling artistic choices.
Beginning with a 1977 lecture by Philip K. Dick, several believers in this bizarre theory are interviewed – appearing as wacky digital avatars – before the film ventures into darker territory as it explores the story of an unstable Matrix fan whose belief in this simulation theory drove him to horrific acts. Presenting its often-unconvincing arguments rather haphazardly, A Glitch in the Matrix is never really given time to provoke much thought before more and more pop culture references and movie and video game clips are wildly thrown at the viewer. It is this stylistic choice that frequently derails the film – there are certainly some individuals interviewed that have some fascinating theories that, although bizarre, would certainly warrant more exploring. Instead, the film goes off on tangent after tangent which ultimately fails to convince us of any of its theories.
Some of the film’s more interesting points are subtly presented and left totally unexplored – some of the interviewees’ talk of their faith and religious upbringings or battles with mental health, which could certainly have an impact on their views on simulation theory. And yet, they are left hanging out there on the screen while the film zips into another clip from The Matrix or footage from Minecraft. Similar to Ascher’s Shining doc Room 237, it is this frantic and madcap delivery of its ideas and theories that lets the film down. Nothing is given any time to breathe, and the bizarre animation and digital avatar characters substituting the interviewees often results in unintentional comedy.
A Glitch in the Matrix ultimately feels like a missed opportunity on the whole, struggling to remain focused on the fascinating testimonies of its interviewees. Instead, the film ultimately leaves viewers feeling even more perplexed than they were when they started, thanks to being teased with grand ideas – but simply being refused any deep exploration of the theory. An interesting introduction to simulation theory, but those looking for any analysis or discussion of ideas should look beyond this unfocused, entry-level doc.
A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX is available now on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray from Dogwoof