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Simulation theory in “A Glitch In The Matrix” is inspiring, inventive, but unevenly gendered

Rodney Ascher’s latest deep-dive documentary is available to stream through the UW Cinematheque for a limited time.

[As of 02/11 evening, all streaming codes have been claimed. The film is still available to rent via virtual cinema with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Cinematheque.]

A Glitch In The Matrix (2021) feels like a digital fever dream. Much of director Rodney Ascher’s third documentary feature (after The Nightmare and Room 237), accessible via viewing link starting today from UW Cinematheque, seems unreal. It’s not because of the spiraling and contradictory philosophical viewpoints, hectic glitch aesthetics (static, pixelation, audio loss), or dizzying computer-generated avatars, but because the perspectives presented are so overwhelmingly male.

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Considering the climax features testimony from “matrix murderer” Joshua Cooke, maybe that’s the more insidious truth of the toxic masculinity behind reality-bending and Internet theorization relating to simulation theory that Rodney Ascher aims to address (i.e. the idea that all of reality could in fact be an artificial simulation). I enjoyed the film for the ideas that it sparked about my own consciousness and reality, but I just craved a narrative that showed a more inclusive world: one where more women are the builders, the writers, the authors, and critics. Or, in the immortal words of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), “The One.”

Religion, philosophy, and technology all intermingle when four computerized avatars present their personal anecdotes and logical musings for simulation theory as being a reasonable explanation for existence (similar to the depiction in the Wachowskis’ iconic The Matrix from 1999). Their stories are displayed with hauntingly beautiful and original animations that make deep-diving into simulation theory inspiring and new but, in a way, tiring and bro-ified.

Their tales of enlightenment range from childhood epiphanies to otherworldly sensory deprivation tank awareness; and they’re also laced through the narrative with flush screen time from author Philip K. Dick (lecturing from beyond the grave in a 1977 seminar), Elon Musk (from various YouTube screen grabs), and cartoonist Chris Ware (a direct interview)— just to name a few. There are nods to classic philosophers (Descartes and Plato), contemporary conspiracies like Mandela Effect, and, unsurprisingly, a lot of Keanu Reeves (from The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly (2006), and a viral deepfake video titled “Keanu Reeves stops A ROBBERY!”), which reminded me how much I generally enjoy his ethos.

If you feel like being taken on an aesthetic tour through conspiracy and philosophy, A Glitch In The Matrix comes recommended. If anything, the film made me sure that I want to take the plunge and re-watch The Matrix and The Animatrix (2003) to feel that wild pull through the rabbit hole. Ascher’s A Glitch In The Matrix shows the lighthearted and uglier philosophical and psychological effects of believing that nothing is real. Yet, at the same time, it could have drawn upon a more diverse array of voices. You can follow the white rabbit and stream A Glitch In The Matrix from UW Cinematheque (through February 11 or until requests are filled) by emailing [email protected] with the title of the film in the subject line.

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